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In this article for My Countryside magazine, Polly Portwin looks at how our actions can take hunting off the political agenda and ensure future generations have an opportunity to follow hounds.
"Just as generations before me enjoyed hunting, so I want my children and grandchildren to be able to go out with a pack of hounds too,” said Lord (Nicholas) Soames at the Countryside Alliance’s Westminster Hunting Briefing held in the summer. “If we take the right decisions now, act responsibly and work together, I believe we can bequeath them that gift.”
Our Action for Hunting campaign seeks to ensure that future generations have the pleasure of being able to follow a pack of hounds – be that foxhounds, beagles, basset hounds, harriers or any other scent hounds – that so many of us have been fortunate to do. Those who hunted as a child will remember the honour of being asked to give the field master a lead, being questioned over how many hounds were out or fumbling furiously with a padlock when asked to help open a gate.
We want other children to have those opportunities whilst also preserving the infrastructure of hunts and ensuring a future for our hounds, hunt staff and our communities. One of the beauties of following hounds is that those of all ages interact on the hunting field, with those across the different generational spectrum having so much in common, just like eight-year-old Bea (pictured above right), who hunts regularly alongside her hunt secretary grandmother, Susie, and is “a future secretary in the making”.
Jamie Hughes, who has worked in hunt service for almost a decade, spoke about how he sees the future: “I would love to work in hunting forever but I know this will only happen if we are able to uphold the highest standards on and off the hunting field. We are in the public eye all the time and it is imperative that we act with integrity.”
Every day of the year, the Alliance’s legislative team watches for hostile legislation and takes action on behalf of our members and supporters to ensure that threats to our way of life are averted. If it had not been for this vital work, we would already have had votes to strengthen the Hunting Act and hunts would not be able to trail hunt or conduct exempt hunting across the country as they do today.
The Alliance endeavours to take hunting off the political agenda permanently by persuading politicians that there is no case to strengthen the law. We will continue to work hard on behalf of the hunting community – in parliament, in the media and on the ground – but to make a real difference we also need your help to ensure that hunting’s reputation is credible and that our activities are seen to be legitimate and acceptable.
Labour, who are odds-on to form the next government, have previously committed to “closing loopholes in the foxhunting ban” and it is anticipated that similar commitments will be in their general election manifesto. It is our aim to prevent such a commitment but that will only be possible if hunt supporters make sensible decisions this season too.
Public perception is critical and hunting has got work to do to improve it. Our independent polling – which took place ahead of the Westminster Briefing – revealed that two thirds of the public believe that foxes are still being chased by hounds. However, the polling also revealed that those who have witnessed lawful trail hunting are more likely to accept that it should be allowed to continue, proving that education is key.
In an ever-changing society, being seen to be upholding the highest standards on and off the hunting field, promoting lawful hunting activities whenever possible and offering reassurance that all hunting activity is legitimate, are all vital components in helping to build public support for hunting with hounds and reducing the risk of potentially hostile legislation.
A number of educational trail hunting displays took place at shows and point-to-points, including the Game Fair, over the summer, but that is only the beginning of what needs to be a major effort by the entire hunting community to engage with the public. The British Hound Sports Association recently held a successful trail hunting open day to demonstrate to the police, press and the media, as well as the public, how trail hunting is conducted, with more similar events planned. The more we can showcase our lawful activities to the public, the less impact our opponents’ propaganda is likely to have, and the less reason the politicians will have to open-up the hunting debate yet again.
So, what action can you take to help? There may be a time when you will be asked to support politically, perhaps lobbying your MP or writing letters, but in the short-term, everybody who hunts can take decisions and action this season that may help us to reduce the risk of hostile legislation and build public support for hunting. In turn this may also prevent direct action from animal rights activists and enable us to build an even stronger and more positive media campaign.
The future of hunting really is in our hands. We don’t want to look back in a few seasons’ time and wish we had tried harder to save what we’ve got, so please act now to ensure the youngsters of today, and their children, can become the masters, huntsmen, hunt secretaries and subscribers of the future.
You can take action this season by:
- Maintaining the highest standards both on and off the hunting field
- Demonstrating legitimate hunting activities
- Improving public relations by thanking other road users, keeping roads clear and avoiding driving or parking on mown verges
- Refraining from engaging with hunt saboteurs and monitors
- Promoting hunting on social media while adhering to your hunt’s social media policy
- Helping with local lobbying when required
- Supporting campaigns dedicated to promoting hunting
- Signing up to Action for Hunting today.