Blogger and freelance writer from the northeast coast of England.
Camp Beagle is a permanent vigil situated outside the gates of MBR Acres near Huntington, where beagle puppies are bred to be transported and used in laboratory experiments (you may remember in 2021 when Will Young chained himself to the gates there). I spent a weekend at the camp, as there was a demonstration at the facility on a Saturday.
I Arrive at the Camp
It was dark when I got to the camp, which lies on a lonely stretch of B road, where signposts are rare and street lighting is nonexistent. In a fitting metaphor, though, a string of fairy lights marks the camp’s location; a light of hope on a very dark road. Several tents were pitched on the grass verge, and beyond there were camper vans and parked cars. My 225-mile drive was at an end.
As I walked along the road towards the lights, I heard someone in one of the vans, so I approached and introduced myself as a partisan visitor. I was welcomed and taken to one of a pair of huge ex-army tents that could have come straight from the set of M*A*S*H. Inside, a dozen or so people were gathered on a settee and an assortment of chairs. After introductions, and a welcome mug of tea, I settled into my first night among a group of people who were complete strangers to me, but who immediately made me feel very welcome. A generator provides electricity to the camp, but on that first night, this was switched off to save fuel and a dozen candles were lit on the table, generating a cosy ambience and adding to the warmth.
My First Night
When I mentioned that I wasn’t much looking forward to pitching my tent in the dark, my hosts told me there was a vacant tent on the verge, and I could sleep in that. And so, weary after the drive, I took my sleeping tackle into the tent and snuggled down. My main concern was that I’d be cold, but this wasn’t the case; I was warm and cosy all night. What I hadn’t been expecting though, was that every time a vehicle went past (intermittently throughout the night), the draught that followed would cause one side of the tent to flap in a very noisy manner. So my sleep was interrupted by that, and even more so when, just before dawn, someone drove past thinking it would be a jolly wheeze to blare the horn all the way past camp. The others told me this is a regular occurrence, but only a minor irritation.
Bedded down, I lay in the darkness listening. There was gentle snoring from another tent, the hoot of an owl, and a much more haunting sound, the distant yapping and yelping of dogs. Lots of dogs. These are the unfortunate inmates of MBR Acres; beagle puppies that have been bred specifically to be sold for use in all manner of laboratory experiments. Eventually, I fell asleep to this miserable soundtrack.
An Early Morning Protest
It was daylight when I was woken by some sort of kerfuffle going on outside. I listened for a moment and then realised it was a protest at the gates. I quickly rose, pulled on my jacket and crawled into the cold morning air. The much-needed portaloo was in the opposite direction to the protest, so I didn’t have time to pee; I didn’t want to miss the arrival of the police and workers.
There were about a dozen protesters at the roadside. These are subject to an injunction that demands they observe a ten-metre exclusion zone at the gate. Five police officers marched up and took their positions facing the protesters, while two security guards inside the facility looked on from behind the huge steel gate. Presently, the gate slid open and a pair of cars drove up. Protesters became more animated and the police braced themselves for any eventuality. The cars drove in to the accompaniment of frantic drumming, cat-calls and shouted megaphone slogans, "puppy killers" being the most commonly used.
With the cars inside, the gate was closed and the police marched off; the protesters milled about the camp, and I dashed to the portaloo. A small picket stayed at the roadside to hold up placards at passing motorists, many of whom sounded their horns to show support for the camp. This sporadic honking went on throughout my stay.
All This and Free Samosas
With the drama over (for now), I got my first proper look at the camp in daylight. At the hub of activities are the aforementioned ex-army tents, one of which serves as a mess tent, and the other a lounge. These were donated to the camp by a well-wisher, and are greatly appreciated. Donations by those who can't attend the camp, but want to support its efforts, are a common occurrence. The camp recently received boxes of interlocking rubber floor tiles for the lounge tent, a consignment of blankets and hot water bottles, a box of head torches and, last week, eight (vegan) pizzas were delivered out of the blue one night.
The mess tent houses cooking facilities and a food store. Anything that can be nibbled by furry intruders is stored in sealed plastic containers. In the lounge tent, a large coffee table stands as the focal point on the newly laid rubber floor. In addition to the chairs that surround this, there is a portable butane gas fire and a music system.
As the morning wore on, more protesters turned up and a pair of pop-up food stalls were erected to cater to them. These were not run by opportunists cashing in where a crowd had gathered; everything on offer was free, although donations were accepted. The stalls were piled with pizza, samosas, sausage rolls and cakes (all vegan, of course). I sampled most of what was on offer, all of which was good, but the samosas were delicious.
A Poignant Moment
There was a poignant moment when a camp member took a couple of us newbies along a path into farmland at the side of the facility. We stopped by a small tree, from which hang several wooden hearts and festooned with purple ribbons—a symbol commonly used to raise awareness of animal abuse. At the centre of what is effectively a shrine, there is a small wooden plaque that bears the legend Love is a four-legged word. Originally intended as a humorous novelty, this plaque takes on far grimmer significance as, only a few metres behind it and beyond a barbed-wire fence, are the sheds that house the puppies. The yapping is much louder here, and it makes for difficult listening.
An Angry Confrontation
There were about 100 people at the demo, which is a decent turnout given the remoteness of the location. When the workers came to leave, some protesters advanced as the gates opened to allow the cars out. The tempo of the drumming rose and it immediately became clear that the almost token police presence (with a police drone overhead) would not be enough to contain the very angry protesters.
The leading car got away, but the rear car was immediately surrounded by a swarm of protesters who marched in front to prevent it from driving off. There unfolded the bizarre situation of the car inching forward as police shoved protesters out of the way, but of course, other protesters immediately filled the void, so progress was at a snail's pace. As well as the drumming and amplified shouts, some switched their megaphones to siren mode, so we had a shrill wail on top of everything else. This noisy tussle went on for over a mile, with tempers on both sides becoming frayed, although there were no arrests. Finally, police reinforcements were drafted in and they cleared an escape route for the car. The protesters returned to camp, satisfied that they had made a bigger impact than had been anticipated, and taking away footage with which to spread the word via social media. The general consensus was that the police had badly misjudged the demonstration.
Back at Camp
Back at camp the food stalls were busy. There was considerable mingling, and those who were staying overnight at the camp wound down in the evening. Where the food stalls had stood, a group with a guitar gathered around a blazing fire pit for a sing-song. Inside the lounge tent, I partook of several cans of beer with some of the others. There was music, dancing, snacks, the forging of friendships, and lots of chit-chat.
But this was no celebratory booze-up. Early the next morning I joined the protest at the gates with about a dozen compatriots. There were more banging drums, holding up placards, and barking through megaphones, as the two cars entered the facility, this time under the protection of ten police officers.
Back in the warmth of the tent, camp members discussed what to have for breakfast. I left them to it while I drove to the nearby Tesco to get fuel for the journey home, and to avail myself of proper toilet facilities. When I got back to the camp, I saw that the breakfast they had opted for was apple crumble and black forest gateau with custard. Count me in!
After breakfast, I stayed until the workers came out, getting in one last protest. Then I packed up my things and said goodbye. There were hugs and promises of a return, and I genuinely wanted to stay on, but I couldn’t. I had gone down for the demonstration, where I too could express my disgust at this awful trade. But to be among determined, like-minded people made the trip a real pleasure as well. I shall return.
I Say Farewell
And so, as the seasons come and go, a hardy band of activists will maintain a vigil outside the gate of MBR Acres. It will be cold at times, and there will be little in the way of home comforts. But the protesters know that the privations they will endure won’t amount to a hill of beans next to the horrors that await the beagles in the sheds next door. So whatever the weather, the Camp Beagle contingent will stick resolutely to its motto: We’re not leaving without the beagles.
If you would like to keep up with what is happening at Camp Beagle, visit their Facebook page here.
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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.