Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
The aim of this week is to introduce as many new faces to the hunting field as possible and to encourage those that have never been hunting before to give it a try. Hunts generally welcome newcomers throughout the year anyway, but it can be a daunting prospect to go out for the first time.
As well as being an opportunity for people to find out more about hunting and to get involved, newcomers’ week is also a timely reminder to packs that there is a large and growing market for what they have to offer. There are more people looking to access the countryside than ever before. There are more people riding horses recreationally, although riding is certainly not a necessity for following hounds as there are dozens of foot packs involved in newcomers’ week. Hunts can offer a mixture of access, excitement and hound work that no other activity can and, where they offer the right product there is enormous support.
As our Chairman, Simon Hart, who himself hunted hounds for more than a decade, recently wrote in an important piece in Horse and Hound, hunting is at a crossroads as the result of the huge changes in the countryside over recent decades. Those hunts that are embracing change are reaping the benefits, but we cannot ignore the reality of an ever more crowded countryside, and ever more complexity in running a hunt. As Simon pointed out, there are more hunts registered with the Masters of Foxhounds Association now than there were 100 years ago. This is not sustainable in our modern countryside.
Hunting has, however, always adapted as the countryside has changed. Its history rings with generation after generation predicting the end of the sport. From the enclosures to the coming of barbed wire, from the rise in game shooting to the Hunting Act, hunting has been written off too many times to number. Yet always it reinvents itself because, at its very heart, lies that extraordinary relationship – that golden thread – between man, hound and quarry which has fascinated through the ages.
A few years ago I was surprised to read an article in the Guardian, of all newspapers, where a Leicestershire Master of Foxhounds was complaining that “the position of Master of Foxhounds seems every year to present more difficulty”. The article continued with the usual concerns about the formation of shooting syndicates and how keen farmers are to erect barbed wire fences. I was, however, slightly confused as it finished with a report of the Craven hounds running for 20 miles through Basingstoke, until I realised that the article was from the Guardian’s archives and was dated 1899.
Proof, if it were needed, that in hunting much changes, but some things stay the same.
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