Countryside Alliance Chief Executive, Alice Barnard, writes: This week features two important anniversaries for the people living and working in the countryside: today marks the sixth anniversary of the Hunting Act coming into force in England and Wales, and we are also ten years on from the start of the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak.
No one could forget the footage of the pyres of livestock during FMD. The contiguous culling policy accounted for 10 million animals even though only 2,000 cases were confirmed. The Government even drafted in hunt staff (reluctantly) when it became clear the cull was being badly handled and carried out. The outbreak devastated whole families and communities and no one was really sure if the farming industry would bounce back.
The Alliance’s role in this, as in the six years under the Hunting Act, has been to act as champion and communicator for those affected. Our 2001 London march was postponed and country sports voluntarily suspended activities as we all did our bit to halt the epidemic. During FMD we decoded and publicised impenetrable Government advice and similarly, under the Hunting Act, we have worked hard to offer guidance and support to hunts as they try to operate under a bad law.
Neither episode has been the countryside's finest hour, and obviously the scale of the FMD outbreak was far greater than the impact of the Hunting Act, but through both negatives the countryside has tried to be positive. Many farmers adapted to post-FMD farming. On-farm enterprises such as farm shops, tea shops, B&Bs, bakeries and wildlife nature trails have grown out of necessity - keep the farm going, make it viable. And the public has responded with enthusiasm, as the Countryside Alliance Awards testify. Certainly the local food revolution of recent years has cemented support for British produce that had perhaps been lacking in the years before 2001. And the Countryside Alliance is working hard to ensure that British means British when it comes to our quality produce.
Equally, under the Hunting Act, hunts have adopted a holding pattern, maintaining their infrastructures and hunting within the exemptions of the Act to ensure survival until we can secure repeal. The way farming has moved on from FMD should provide encouragement to the hunting community (especially the many people who are part of both farming and hunting.) The British grit, determination and ability to pick ourselves up whatever the circumstances has proven invaluable. And as we continue to campaign for repeal, those characteristics will come in useful until we can look back on FMD and the Hunting Act as events which marred the countryside a long, long time ago.