Before the new Government was elected on May 1st they made a commitment to abolish hunting with hounds, which was an objective supported by a large majority of the population. The pro-hunting lobby quickly organised a mass rally in London, claiming this proposal was instigated by townies who had no understanding of the realities of the countryside, suggesting that balance of country life would be upset if they were not allowed to hunt. Many working people took part, but they all seemed to be carrying mass produced placards as though, far from being spontaneous, they had been regimented into a well-orchestrated assembly. The rally was in fact organised by the Countryside Movement, heavily funded by wealthy hunt supporters and others who, though actually opposed to hunting feared that their own 'sport', such as fishing or shooting would be the next to be banned.
The new government, which had already failed to promote an official bill on this matter, left it to a private member to promote the anti-hunting Bill. The 'Wild Animals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill is sponsored by Michael Foster and will come up for its important Second Reading on 28th November. Private Members' Bills are heard on Fridays, when MPs hope to get away early for a weekend in their constituencies; so it is important that people who are keen to see this Bill become law should make their views known to their MP and ask him or her to attend on that day.
In July the Trades Unions held their annual rally in Dorset to commemorate the Tolpuddle Martyrs who in the 1880s were transported to Australia for trying to organise a Trade Union. To the surprise of many there, hunt supporters were allowed to join the march (presumably because some of them belonged to a Union). A fruitful dialogue developed between hunt employees and Animal Aid supporters. Points made by the hunt supporters seemed reasonable at first but were soon countered:
a) There are too many foxes, some are pitifully mangy and they should be culled. Foxes have no natural predators but their population is limited by the availability of territory. Young foxes unable to find a territory do not survive. Killing one fox allows another to take its place and survive. Hunts know the location of the foxes' earths and could easily cull them without the elaborated ritual of the hunt. Hunters prefer a long chase. They are not interested in culling the weaklings. If a fox goes to earth, a terrier is sent down after it and the terrier may be seriously hurt by the fox's bites.
b) Foxes kill now-born lambs. Investigations show that foxes will go after weak lambs, abandoned by their mothers, thus forming part of nature's culling process. It is hard to find cases of healthy lambs being killed.
c) Foxes get into henhouses and kill every hen there. An Animal Aid supporter said she had kept hens in the country and never lost one to a fox. She made sure her henhouses were secure. Most hens are kept in large sheds with intensive farming, where foxes could not enter. Other hens have sheds that should be kept secure against other animals. If a fox gets in that is due to bad management. The fact is that foxes kill pheasants living in the open, which are carefully bred for the shooting season - a very profitable business for the landowners. This is where the foxes do the damage - not with the few free-range hens. By nature hens would roost in trees where foxes could not reach them. Even if a fox caught one hen, the others would quickly fly out of reach and be safe.
d) Banning hunting would cause unemployment in the countryside. Riding stables would have to close, hounds have to be shot, etc. Hunting could still continue as a Drag Hunt, where no fox is involved. A scent-laden rag is dragged along a trail for the hounds to pick up. This is a growing sport, which provides a pleasant ride without undue hazards and embarrassing events such as ending up in someone's garden chasing a pet cat. Riding stables would continue because many people enjoy riding for its own sake without the need to chase a wild animal. Hounds past their useful life are shot anyway. Hunters are not sentimental.
e) Country folk and their 'sports' preserve the countryside and its natural beauty. In the past decades, landowners have systematically attacked the countryside and its natural beauty. They have grubbed out hedgerows, chopped down woodlands and turned the former fields into a prairie landscape of fields stretching to the horizon, often growing unconventional crops at the instigation of government directives and subsidies. A great number of farmers object to the hunt which can damage their crops but are reluctant to refuse permission (many are tenant farmers).
Hunting and shooting are the preserve of the privileged few, who look on the country as their preserve and want to deny
access to the mass of the population. It is nearly a thousand years since William the Conqueror established the New Forest
as a private hunting ground. With the new millennium approaching, it is time for change.
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Cross-reference: Hunting and Shooting
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