Farmer frustration at land damaged by trespassing hunt

A farmer in north Co. Dublin has been left frustrated after a hunt passed through his land, resulting in significant damage and reportedly causing unnecessary stress to heavily pregnant ewes.

Speaking to AgriLand, Ashley Keogh said he doesn’t let the hunt pass through his land and that he has consistently refused the organisers permission.

Generally, Keogh – a full-time sheep farmer with over 400 ewes – said he is normally close-by when a hunt is on locally, just to make sure that it doesn’t stray onto his land.

But, last Friday (February 16), he explained that he was running low on feed for his sheep and that he left in his jeep to go and get more.

While he was aware that a hunt was on that day, he felt that he had been quite clear in the past that he would never grant a hunt permission to enter any of his fields. No one asked for clearance prior to the hunt, he added.

However, on his return, he discovered that a hunt had entered his land without authorisation and had caused “significant damage”. He believes approximately 50 horses passed through his field; it was also confirmed to him that it was the Ward Union Hunt that passed through his land.

If anything, this proved that I was right to hang around in the past to make sure it never came onto my land. It’s unbelievable that they would do this, especially with the ground as wet as it is.

“I thought it was best that I didn’t confront anyone that evening as my temper was up. I felt it was better to calm down and deal with it with a level head; the days of shouting and roaring are gone,” he said.

‘It was like something you would expect after a dog attack’

As well as the damage to his field – which is about 16ac in size – Keogh was worried that the hunt had caused unnecessary stress to 48 heavily-pregnant ewes that were in the field.

“I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what happened exactly. But, the field is 16ac in size and there is another 4ac field adjoining it. To get into the smaller field, you have to cross a wooden bridge which I made for the sheep.

“I think when the horses entered the field they spooked the ewes. It looks as if they all tried to go to the smaller field and they broke the sides of the bridge with some falling into the ditch.”

The farmer had to pull seven ewes that are just six weeks away from lambing out of briars so they could rejoin the rest of the flock. He described it as something you might expect to find after a dog attack.

They are alive; but, I don’t know whether or not they are going to start throwing lambs in the next few weeks because of this.

Damage

Keogh claims that approximately 2ac of the 16ac field have been damaged as a result of the hunt.

He explained that he asked a person he knew, who is accustomed to hunting, to take a look at the field. Their verdict was that the horses in the hunt were at full gallop while they were on his land, going by the depth of the hoof marks, Keogh said.

Pictures taken by the farmer show that the horses on the hunt were not in single file when they were passing through the land and that the tracks left by the horses are close to 150ft away from the hedge in places.

As well as this, Keogh says the hunt ignored a chance to exit his field onto a laneway via the field’s gate and continued to damage the land. The farmer also told AgriLand that 4ft sheep wire was cut at either end of the field, to allow the hunt to enter and exit. This was repaired by fencers following the hunt.

Aftermath

Keogh was left disappointed that none of the organisers came to speak to him directly following the hunt.

When he took the initiative and went to speak with one of the organisers, Keogh claimed that his concerns weren’t taken seriously.

The farmer outlined that the man he spoke to agreed that the hunt would organise to have the field rolled in May, once the ground dried up. Keogh is seeking this promise in writing, in order to provide himself with some certainty on the matter.

He claimed that a similar promise was made about a decade ago and was never followed through on.

Leading up to the lambing season, Keogh is worried that his ewes could face difficulties as a result of the hunt.

I’m just trying to make a living; my sole income is from sheep. I’m just trying to keep on top of bills and keep food on the table.

“The lambing season is just six weeks away and it is an extremely busy time for me. I will have to survive with about four hours’ sleep a night for over two weeks.

“People have to be held accountable for their actions,” he said.

‘We made a mistake’

Speaking to AgriLand, a spokesperson for the Ward Union Hunt said that they had made a mistake by entering the field.

“We would always ask for permission. We made a mistake and we hold our hands up to that. We got the field wrong.

“A letter has been sent to the farmer saying that the hunt will repair the field and to contact the hunt if there is any problem during lambing,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the former chairman of the Hunting Association of Ireland, David Lalor, said that it is common for hunt participants to remain in single file when on wet farm land and to keep close to hedges to minimise the level of damage caused.

“We have to be very considerate to farmers. A hunt should always endeavour to fix up any damage caused,” he said.

Lalor added that some farmers have never wanted hunts to enter their land, but there are those that welcome them – which has always been the way. He explained that it is common practice for hunt organisers to seek permission from landowners prior to the hunt.

Dick Power, who is also involved with the association, explained that a fencer or two generally follows a hunt around to carry out repair works to boundary fences.

He added that it was the landowners’ prerogative to refuse access to their land.

“A hunt doesn’t have any God-given right to go onto anyone’s land. If damage has been done, the farmer is entitled to compensation. Hunting can only run on good will.

“It couldn’t happen if 70% or 80% of farmers didn’t allow the hunt on their land,” he said.