The League Against Cruel Sports' discovery of 16 fox cubs held captive in a dark barn, just 200m from a fox hunt's dog kennels, will be shocking to many - but those who have campaigned against hunting for decades will hardly be surprised. Saddened and upset, yes, but not surprised.
Pre and post ban, hunt monitors have witnessed and recorded abundant evidence of hunts artificially manipulating fox numbers to ensure a ready supply of animals to be hunted. In 2011, six years after the hunting ban came into force, we conducted a nationwide investigation into the use of artificial earths by fox hunts.
These are man-made structures designed to mimic fox earths, usually made out of drain pipes or concrete blocks, and provide a place for foxes to breed and shelter. We found the practice was widespread, with evidence of structure maintenance and supplementary feeding of foxes at sites in 14 counties, on land used by 21 hunts.
Last November, evidence of a hunt providing food for foxes at an artificial earth made the national news. Just this week we received footage of similar activities being carried out by a different hunt - ten years after hunting was banned. But why?
For all their claims of fox control and wildlife management, hunting is really about prestige and status. A hunt without a fox to chase doesn't look good. Providing food and shelter for wild foxes means they'll always know where to find them on hunting day.
But why keep 16 fox cubs trapped in a barn? We can only speculate as to the intended fate for these youngsters - perhaps to be released during 'cub hunting' season in early autumn when young hounds are taught how to track and kill by chasing fox cubs; or maybe to be released at artificial earths dotted throughout the countryside once they were old enough to fend for themselves.
The truth may be even more sinister. We have been receiving reports of a trade in foxes for several years, with hunts in areas with healthy fox populations providing foxes for those in areas where the animal is scarce. I guess you could call this wildlife management, but it's certainly not the natural kind that hunts claim to provide.
Though the pro-hunt lobby will try and convince you otherwise, this discovery is not an isolated incident. Just three years ago a hunt employee was convicted under the Animal Welfare Act for holding a pregnant vixen captive in appalling conditions, and during the heat of the campaign for a hunting ban two fox cubs were found captive on land owned by a hunt. In the past 15 months alone our Wildlife Crimewatch hotline has received information on 20 hunts suspected of similar behaviour.
If it wasn't obvious already, this story hammers home a vital point that some people don't want to believe. I'm sorry, but it's true. Those who hunt with hounds are not operating a fox control or wildlife management service, they are simply people who enjoy killing animals. As difficult as it is for most people to comprehend, all of the evidence points to this one unpalatable fact.
Hunting with hounds, whether the victims are foxes, deer or hares, is nothing but a cruel pastime carried out by a minority who like to see animals ripped apart. It certainly isn't a sport, because sport should be played on an equal playing field - and as the foxes in the barn show, hunting is anything but an equal playing field.
Find out more about the foxes in the barn at www.league.org.uk