Why Fox Hunting Is More Popular Than Ever

Painting by Munnings

 

The riders breathed the aroma of hot wine, the hounds were hungry for a scent,   but what you could really smell in the air at yesterday’s opening meeting of   the Warwickshire Hunt was the exalted whiff of English contrariness.

By rights, this kind of scene should now be consigned to antique dinner plates   and episodes of Downton Abbey. The nation’s huntsmen and women should have   hung up their red jackets, retired their steeds and submitted meekly to the   dictates of the urban tyranny. Strangely, it hasn’t happened like that.   Seven years after the Labour government passed a contentious law intended to   abolish hunting with hounds, the country’s hunts – which no longer chase a   live animal, but merely a trail of artificial scent instead – are in the   best shape anyone can remember.

Part of the reason is that the law has proved almost comically difficult to   enforce. Beneath its stated object of outlawing the hunting of wild mammals   with dogs, near-total confusion reigns. In theory, you can hunt mice, but   not rats, rabbits but not hares, domestic cats but not wild ones. Birds of   prey, but not foxhounds, can be set upon foxes. Yet a bigger factor appears   to be that exquisitely delinquent streak in the British character that   reacts against the hectoring and bossiness of officialdom. As a result,   thousands of people who previously had little obvious interest in hunting   have taken it up.

“Our membership has doubled to around 1,000 since the law was passed,” says   Sam Butler, the Warwickshire’s ebullient Master. “The support we are getting   from the communities is incredible. Our range of activities is expanding all   the time. Even with the economy the way it is, when everyone’s watching   where their money goes, we are hunting at least as much as ever.”

Certainly, yesterday’s season’s opener, at the hamlet of Oxhill, south of   Stratford-upon-Avon, offered an image of reassuring well-being. On a damp,   chilly morning, a hearty contingent of villagers turned out to cheer the   hunt off. The local pub laid on breakfast and drinks. There were no   protesters, no police, nothing that in any way detracted from a scene that   has been a part of the English countryside for centuries.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/countryside/8872182/Why-fox-hunting-is-more-popular-than-ever.html#disqus_thread

 

And yet. Not all is happiness in the hearts of the hunters. The ban is still   on the books, and the Conservative’s pre-election enthusiasm for rapid   repeal appears to have fallen victim to cold political reality. David   Cameron, describing himself on the stump as “a country boy”, promised a free   vote on the issue, but his aides now indicate that it would be   “inappropriate” to promote such a cause when all serious focus is on the   economy.

Then there’s the problem – as there tends to be – of keeping the Lib Dems on   board. The Conservatives’ coalition partners are generally no keener on   fox-hunting than New Labour. The one thing everyone, from hunting types to   animal rights activists agrees upon, is that the law is a shambles, and   there is little momentum towards a resolution.

“It’s frustrating,” says Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Countryside   Alliance, huddled over coffee in Oxhill’s picturesque pub. “We understand   the government’s difficulties, and we are realistic about the politics. The   hunts are operating within the law, and we’ll continue to do so, but the   fact is that we are stuck with one of the most useless, illiberal, and   wrong-headed pieces of legislation that has ever been passed. It hasn’t   saved the life of a single fox.

“You can say: ‘Well, the hunts are doing fine, so why change anything?’ But   that’s not the point. As long as the Act is there it represents the idea   that hunting is wrong, and that people who hunt are reprehensible, and   engage in cruelty. It makes no recognition of the enormous importance of the   hunts in rural communities, the good works they do, and the positive effects   they have on the welfare of the countryside. Until hunting is out from under   this law it will never feel right, and that is why we have to keep on   fighting.

“Tony Blair wrote in his memoirs that the ban was one of his biggest regrets   [“I had a complete lapse,” wrote the former PM, “I didn’t ‘feel it’ either   way. I didn’t feel how, for fox-hunters, this was part of their way of life.   I didn’t feel how, for those wanting a ban, this was fundamentally about   cruelty. Result? Disaster.”], and I do believe that David Cameron is   sincere, and that we will get a repeal.”

Blair claims credit for engineering enough loopholes to allow hunting to   continue after a fashion, but, in a sense, his efforts served only to make a   difficult situation worse. Huntsmen now complain that the restrictions –   primarily on killing the fox – have actually worsened the animals’ lot,   while anti-hunting campaigners accuse the hunts of ignoring the law.

Caught in the middle are the police. Rural constabularies point out that   chasing around the countryside after huntsmen – even if they had the   resources to do it – would be unlikely to produce useful evidence. The law   is so riddled with contradictions that only a handful of prosecutions have   been thought worth pursuing. Many traditional hunting areas, including   Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, have seen no prosecutions at all.

“Of the ones that have succeeded, just six related to registered hunts,” says   the blonde Mrs Barnard, 34, the CA’s first female head. “All the others have   been of people who would have been acting illegally anyway, such as   poachers.”

Outside the pub, Sam, a 54-year-old estate agent, is preparing to lead the   hunt. It will follow a ready-laid scent trail across the kind of landscape   Shakespeare would have recognised. If a real fox happens to cross the   hounds’ path, the whipper-in must try to prevent them chasing it. If the   beasts take no notice, well, that counts as an accident.

“It’s just a bad law,” says Sam. “It was passed out of ignorance and prejudice   by people who knew nothing about the realities of hunting or rural life.   What it has done is raise peoples’ passions, brought them closer together.   It has focused attention on the important work the hunts do.

“Looking back you can see that we were right all along. Maybe we lost in   Parliament, but we won the argument.”

~ by narhvalur on November 6, 2011.

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