From 1958 to 1963 the 11 otter hunts in England and Wales, according to their own records, killed 1,065 otters between them.
Otterhunters did at times look distinctly curious - but they were determined and highly effective otter killers. The gentleman above is leaning on his otter pole - every notch on that pole, and there are many - indicates an otter that has been hunted and killed at a hunt he attended. They notched their poles with pride after every kill. The prized trophy that hunters would take from their victim was the penis bone - that would be worn as a tie-pin.
The otter is a notoriously tough animal and one that hunters were warned about as shown by this old quote:-
"An otter is a sufficiently formidable beast of chase, and the terrier that has to tackle him must be a hardy and high-couraged one; no creature, in fact, knows better how to use its teeth than an otter, and the unaccustomed spectator will do well not to try to "tail" or otherwise meddle with one of these animals in the course of the hunt, if he values his fingers. "Tailing" an otter~that is, seizing the beast by his tail and flinging him to the hounds, or turning him, is an operation of extreme nicety, and only old hands know how to achieve it successfully." (Nature and Sport in Britain. H.A. Bryden. Pub. Grant Richards, 1904. Page 255)
The hunters fought tooth and claw to keep otterhunting. Even when it was obvious that the species was in severe decline they continued to hunt and kill them. As late as 1976 the Master of the Eastern Counties Otterhounds was pleading with his supporters: "Help me to kill a few otters this season and I think that next year we will shake the pessimists by showing just how many there are about." Here is a further extract from his letter (a scan of the whole letter is elsewhere in this section):-
The going is tough, but that is nothing new in our daily lives........What can you do? Well you can double your support of this hunt by coming out more days than you ordinarily would, by supporting the social functions, and giving generously to the cap which we will take this year for the BFSS Fighting Fund. You can demonstrate that you are proud and unashamed of your sport. Hunters and Otter hunters in particular have been conservationists for longer than most can remember and long before conservation became a weapon of those who wish to stop our pleasure.
We have got a jolly good little pack of hounds with this years puppies of our own breeding being entered for the first time since 1968. Please help me to find water for them to hunt.......
Help me to kill a few otters this season and I think that next year we will shake the pessimists by showing just how many there are about. We have been keeping a low profile for too many years now, and there is nothing quite like a pack of hounds that is catching otters, to show sport every day we go out. I am taking steps to bring this about, belated perhaps, but I realise that successful hunts don’t just happen, they are made by their members and masters................Good hunting Charles Corner"
("Message from the Master" by Charles Corner, Master Eastern Counties Otterhounds [1974-76], Spring 1976)
These extracts make clear just how tenacious the British Field Sports Society (forerunner of the Countryside Alliance) were about defending otterhunting:-
Thank you so much for your letter of 31st October and for giving me your own personal views in confidence at the same time alerting me to the rumours which you say are circulating among otter hunters in Wales.
Any rumour that the BFSS is planning "to sacrifice otterhunting to save other sports" is quite untrue. It is both unfounded and uncharacteristic............
Speaking personally, I would never give up a field sport without using every devise to protect and retain it. We expect to have quite a battle on otterhunting in the next session of Parliament and we shall have to play that as best we can, depending in what way it comes up........" (Letter signed MRK to a Master of Foxhounds in Oswestry, dated 8th November 1976 [Marcus Richard Kimball was Chairman of the British Field Sports Society at the time] )
"(j) Otterhunting Committee
The Chairman reported that efforts to protect the otter were likely to be made in Parliament. The BFSS would oppose any legislation directed at otter hunting." (British Field Sports Society. Minutes of the Meeting of the Main Committee held on 9th December 1976 at 11.30a.m. in the House of Commons, London S.W.1. Page 6)
Anyone who thinks it might ever be possible to negotiate with the hunting lobby would do well to read and remember these following words:-
"Let me warn you that if any attempt is made to add the Otter to the list of protected animals, my friends and I in Parliament will argue every clause in the Bill over and over again and add every other animal and extraneous reforms so that the proposal will eventually be talked out." (Marcus Kimball, M.P. for Gainsborough [now Lord Kimball] and at the time Chairman of the BFSS talking at the Otter Conference held by the Joint Otter Group 22/6/1977 reported in HOWL No.9 Autumn 1977. Page 1)
The letter above was circulated in the Spring of 1976 to members of the Eastern Counties Otterhounds by Charles Corner the Master.
Hunt Saboteurs and Otterhunting:
Otterhunters were notoriously violent and would frequently attack anyone who tried to stop them hunting and killing otters. Here are some illustrated reports of hunt sabbing days with otterhounds:-
Eastern Counties Otterhounds April 23rd 1977
The hunt met at North Elmham, Norfolk, it was their Opening Meet. There were about 20 otterhunters out and about double that number of hunt saboteurs trying to protect otters and other wildlife. Here are some images taken on the day:-
Note the mixture of pure bred otterhounds and reject foxhounds - the latter having been retrained to hunt the scent of the otter.
Here the hunters become aware of the presence of hunt saboteurs.
Above is a classic image of otterhunting in what, mercifully, was their last season.
Now the hunters have saboteurs behind them and ahead of them. Even though the hunt saboteurs outnumber the hunters by some 2:1 the hunters have nothing to fear. The saboteurs are only interested in stopping the hunters from hunting and killing wildlife.
This hunt packed up at about 5pm with no kill so far as saboteurs could tell.