Countryside Alliance President Baroness Mallalieu writes: This summer marks a milestone anniversary; 20 years since the Hyde Park Rally that saw the official launch of the Countryside Alliance.
“Hunting is often described as a sport. But to those of us who have heard the music of the hounds and have loved it, it is far more than that. Hunting is our music, it is our poetry, it is our art, it is our pleasure. It is where many of our best friendships are made, it is our community. It is our whole way of life. And we will fight for these things with all the strength and dedication we possess because we love them.”
That quote is an extract from the speech I made to the Hyde Park rally on 10th July 1997 and it is as true now as it ever was, and in celebrating 20 years of the Countryside Alliance we should all remember how the organisation began and why. The striking thing about the passing of the last twenty years – aside from how quickly it has flashed past – is how far the rural movement has come but also how much remains the same. Certainly those feelings about hunting, deliberately evocative, can still swell the hearts of so many of us as they now do so many of a new generation who were too young to stand with us then but who love hunting, as we do, now.
The Hyde Park Rally and the many demonstrations, marches, vigils and speeches that came after it saw the bedding down of a modern rural movement that remains strong and united. That courage shown in adversity during the Hunting Bill’s passage was never more necessary, and despite the eventual passing of the Hunting Act, its immediate failure and the constant threat of prosecution under which our hardworking hunt staff continue to operate, we remain strong. While fighting the vindictive Hunting Act remains at our core, the Countryside Alliance has always made it clear that hunting is a symbolic rural issue, and our movement is about much more than that. In 1997 I told Hyde Park “We cannot and will not stand by in silence and watch our countryside, our communities and our way of life destroyed forever by misguided urban political correctness. This rally is not just about hunting. Many people, perhaps most of those here today, don’t hunt. It is about freedom, the freedom of people to choose how they live their own lives.”
That is still the case, and the Countryside Alliance’s remit has grown and evolved to represent the things that are important to our membership base. While our sports will always be the organisation’s backbone we have also campaigned strongly on broadband and mobile phone coverage, small businesses through our Rural Oscars and the threats posed by rural crime. There is another dimension to life now that we didn’t have in 1997, and that is the trolling and online abuse that has mushroomed in recent years. As the traditional saboteurs dwindle in support sadly it remains true that keyboard warriors feel they are winning a battle via threats posted from the safety of their home computer. They are not and the law will have its say over this form of bullying.
We have achieved much in 20 years, and have a very exciting and dynamic political phase ahead of us. Let’s remain strong and resolute.
Send your memories, photos and anecdotes – along with your hopes for the countryside’s future – to [email protected]. Use the hashtag #CA20 on Twitter.
Visit countryside-alliance.org/CA20 to view your memories in a live interactive gallery.