Hunting foxes with dogs was outlawed in 2004, and that should have been the end of it. But according to one group of people, it's far from it. That group of people are still out there, trying to disrupt what they claim is illegal activity still taking place in Wales.

Hunting group activities are currently suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but members of the South Wales Hunt Saboteurs say that, in normal times, the issue of hunting foxes with dogs is still rife in many areas of the country, despite it being outlawed through the Hunting Act.

The Hunting Office has said hunts are always in full compliance with the law and accuses activists of wasting police time and resources by interfering with trail hunting activities.

The saboteurs allege that trail hunting, which purports to mimic traditional hunting by allowing an animal-based scent trail to be followed, has been used as "a smokescreen" for illegal activity to take place instead.

The South Wales Hunt Saboteurs group started 25 years ago when smaller groups in Swansea, Cardiff and Newport joined together.

It is made up of people in many different occupations - from social services, carers, teachers and doctors - aged from around 25 to their late 50s.

They perform different roles, from research - those trying to find out where the hunts are going to take place - navigation - people who drive the vehicles - social media, and most integral, the people who physically go out onto the field to interrupt the hunts as they happen.

Members say hunts take place twice a week on land where foxes rest through the day, such as scrubland and woodland. They look to position themselves in the best spots to interrupt hunts, and use OS maps to help locate where they are in rural surroundings.

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To interrupt hunts, they say they use the same techniques as the huntsmen themselves.

One of the group's earliest members, Sam Jones said: "On a hunt day, on the rare occasion they pretend they are laying a trail, but when the hunt starts the hounds don’t go anywhere near the trail. It is a charade and a smokescreen. The huntsman uses a hunting horn and voice commands. We learn the same techniques.

"If hounds are on the fox, the fox will run zig zag, it does not run in a line. When the hound has the scent, at that point they are susceptible to someone else calling them. We can call them back. But we do so with safety in mind and railways and roads. It’s a massive thing to take control of a pack of hounds but we have to do it."

Pictures submitted by South Wales Hunt Saboteurs of hunt meetings they have attended

Sam described how they believed hunting sometimes worked in the Wales area.

“A lot of people thought after the hunt ban that hunting as it was was over. People are surprised that it is still going on,” Sam said.

"I would say when the ban first started, hunts were being cautious and taking care to make sure it looked like they were acting within the law. I don’t know of any hunts not hunting. It is widespread across Wales, from Chepstow, all the land covered by the outskirts of Swansea, Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire.

“Pretty much all of Wales is divided up into hunt countries. You have registered packs, non-registered packs, gun packs and fox destruction packs who keep it going.

“One of the big things is terrier men. The fox knows its territory but if a fox knows of a hole in the ground, the fox will go underground. It is the terrier men’s job to get the fox out of the ground. They put terriers underground with a locator. Sometimes they don’t use a locator and just put a terrier down to flush the fox out. The whole reason you will see terrier men is that they are hunting live quarry They are generally on quad bikes with metal boxes on the front that contain the terriers."

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Sam also gave an account of the abuse members had received and the injuries sustained through the years, explaining: " There is a lot of verbal abuse. They try and latch onto characteristics of people to undermine them. The key thing is not to engage with people. We are not there for a debate, we are there to do a job and stop the huntsmen.

“We do have to look after one another. People can lose confidence and become quite anxious. We look after one another to make sure people are not struggling on their own. If you’re not used to that level of abuse and hatred being spewed on you because you’re trying to be altruistic it can be quite a shock, especially to the newer members. Sometimes they can be aggressive in your face. I’ve become hardened to it.

“I’ve had cuts, bruises, broken ribs. Generally we have not reported it. My ribs were broken and we did not report it. We have concerns about personal details being leaked to the hunt, so many members are reluctant to give their details."

Sam described one of the worst encounters the group had witnessed whilst interrupting wildlife hunting, stating: " One of the things I saw very early on was a pregnant vixen being hunted and killed. We got to her body and she had died. The hounds had ripped her stomach and her cubs were still alive inside her. One by one the cubs died. That was pretty horrific.

“What I have learnt to do from that was put all those emotions into a mental box and save them for when I was on my own. The hunt does not stop looking for another fox and you have to make sure it does not happen to another fox. Hunting has to come to an end."

Responding to the claims, a spokeswoman for The Hunting Office said: "The Hunting Office works with all member hunts to ensure compliance with the Hunting Act and there are thousands of trail hunting days carried out in Wales every year without any issues in terms of legality or prosecutions.

"The law is perfectly clear and vindictive allegations made by activists, who attend hunts with the sole purpose of disrupting the trail hunting activities and interfering with the hounds and the trails which have been laid, are simply wasting police time and resources. "