25/08/2016 07:04 BST | Updated 23/08/2017 06:12 BST

Cub-Hunting - The Hunt Lobby's Dirtiest Secret Exposed

Up to 10,000 fox cubs will be illegally killed this hunting season

It's just a few months since the League Against Cruel Sports revealed shocking undercover footage which appears to show young fox cubs being deliberately thrown to hunting dogs at the South Herefordshire Hunt's kennels. Yet the reverberations from these revelations continue.

The recording, broadcast across the BBC, showed a struggling fox cub being taken into the kennels by the scruff of the neck. The man then disappears from view, but you hear him 'whooping' the dogs into a state of frenzy. Shortly after, the limp and lifeless body of the cub is brought out and dumped into a wheelie bin.

On the day the footage was released, I took part in a number of media interviews. After one local radio interview, I stayed on the line and heard a succession of people calling in to say they had previously supported hunting, but now they knew what it entailed they had changed their mind.

Among those it affected was none other than legendary explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. It prompted him to write to Theresa May on her first day as Prime Minister. In his letter, he said:

"12 years ago I took part in a Countryside Alliance march. I am now writing to ask you to commit to retaining the Hunting Act and dropping the promise to repeal it. The principles of freedom and tradition are no longer a cover to justify cruelty. This point was recently reinforced by the outcry that followed an investigation by the League Against Cruel Sports which showed that live fox cubs are routinely thrown to hunting hounds as part of their training.

"That footage rightly horrified the British public. Such cruelty has no place in the last century, let alone this one. People who previously were supportive of hunting have now turned their back on it."

Sir Ranulph Fiennes has now pledged to work with the League Against Cruel Sports to defend, strengthen and extend the Hunting Act. He will be addressing a meeting at this autumn's Conservative Party conference. There, he will urge party members to join the growing ranks of Conservative MPs and voters who oppose the party's manifesto commitment to bring forward a vote to repeal the Act.

Two days after Theresa May received Sir Ranulph's letter, a No. 10 spokeswoman told journalists: "I think there is plenty of government business at the top of the agenda at the moment - focusing on the immediate priorities for the government - so I don't think fox hunting is top of the in-tray".

The hunt lobby, however, reacted predictably, claiming first that this was an isolated incident, and then saying that they would initiate their own 'independent inquiry' into the incident.

That response quickly descended into farce when video footage surfaced shortly thereafter apparently showing the chairman appointed to lead the inquiry, Sir John Chadwick, taking part in a hunt and whipping a member of the public protesting against the hunt.

The claim that this is an isolated incident has been exposed as nonsense by a long-running League investigation into 'cub-hunting', or as the hunting fraternity like to call it, 'autumn hunting'.

Cub hunting is the secretive and illegal practice of training young inexperienced fox hounds to hunt and kill fox cubs. The Hunting Act has been in force for over ten years and yet still hunts continue to train young hounds to hunt and kill foxes. Hunts usually meet early in the morning but sometimes in the evening before the sun sets when the foxes' scent is strongest.

Hunters mounted on horseback and followers on foot surround the perimeter of a covert, or small wood, where foxes are known to reside. The earth is dug up and the vixen or any cubs attempting to flee are driven back by the circle of hunters and hunt supporters shouting and clapping their hands.

Past League investigations have exposed how fox cubs not killed during these hunts have been captured and taken to artificial earths (or dens) where they are kept to provide a ready supply of foxes to hunt in future seasons, or are kept as live bait for training hounds, as shown in the South Herefordshire case.

Last year, the League Against Cruel Sports released video footage of an investigation which led to the discovery and rescue of 16 fox cubs being kept in a barn linked to a hunt. The evidence indicated that the cubs had been kidnapped to be used as ready 'fodder' for a local hunt. A similar investigation at the end of 2015 on land linked to the Belvoir Hunt led to the League's lead investigator, an ex-police officer, subsequently being brutally attacked by a gang of six masked hunt thugs. The investigator suffered a broken neck after being thrown off a 14-foot ledge. The attack is thought to have been in retaliation for exposing their secret activities. The hunt lobby and its spokespeople have consistently refused to condemn or apologise for the attack.

The practice of cub-hunting is carried out for three reasons. The first is that many hunts confidently expect the government to repeal the Hunting Act, and so are keeping hunting dogs 'in practice', as it were. The second is that many hunts are simply and openly flouting the law, and continue hunting as if nothing had changed. The performance of police forces and the CPS in enforcing the Hunting Act unfortunately varies considerably in different parts of the country.

But the third, and perhaps most shocking reason of all, is that hunts routinely shoot or destroy thousands of hunting dogs every year if they show no interest in hunting and killing foxes, and as they naturally slow down with age. It is estimated that hunts kill between 8-10,000 dogs each year. Many people claim that most could successfully be rehomed in the same way most greyhounds are when they retire. Needless to say, hunts carry out such killings of dogs under conditions of extreme secrecy.

The public is now waking up to the fact that cub-hunting is an inextricable part of hunting. The cruelty of ripping a young fox cub from its family, and the savage deaths these cubs meet, must surely nail the lie that hunting is a legitimate 'sport', as its supporters claim.

Recent polls have shown that opposition to hunting is now at an all-time high, particularly among rural and Conservative voters. As Sir Ranulph Fiennes wrote in his letter to Theresa May: "It would be a fool-hardy political leader who, against this backdrop, would now commit to bringing back hunting, or who told his or her MPs that they will be expected to defend their seats on a promise to make such activities legal again."

If for no other reason, this is why it is surely time that the Conservative Party dropped its manifesto commitment to repealing the Hunting Act, which would open the way for full-scale hunting and cub-hunting to return to Britain's countryside.