More people are riding and supporting foxhunts than ever before, which hunt leaders says shows the ban on hunting has ‘failed spectacularly’.
The Dorset-based chairman of the Countryside Alliance said the latest survey of hunts across the West showed the pastime – and especially following a hunt – was more popular than it was before the controversial 2005 ban.
The statistics were released in the week the Hunt Saboteurs Association posted a video on its own website of hounds from the West’s most senior hunt apparently chasing a fox at the end of the opening day meet last weekend.
The Beaufort Hunt have denied deliberately hunting foxes, and said their hounds accidentally flushed out a fox and were called off from the chase, allowing the fox to escape.
The video shows hounds running around a thicket and then a fox racing across a field and through a lane full of hunt followers’ cars.
Saboteurs monitoring the hunt attempt to call the hounds off themselves, before members of the hunt arrive on horseback and call the hounds back.
“Nobody tried to stop the hounds,” said one of the hunt saboteurs, who said they had, until that point of the day, remained ‘undercover’.
“We had to break our cover to call them off. If we hadn’t been there it would have been killed.”
Lee Moon, from the Hunt Saboteurs Association, questioned the Beaufort Hunt’s claims they had laid a trail. The hunt was in Sopworth, Wiltshire, at the time, several miles from its original meeting place at Worcester Lodge, on the Badminton Estate.
He asked: “If the Beaufort Hunt were following a trail, as they claimed, then how and why did they lay it through thick undergrowth, underneath an old shed and then through a residential area?
“We are certain that two foxes were being chased and it was only the intervention of our members which helped them escape.”
Beaufort Hunt spokeswoman Jo Aldridge said the fox had simply crossed the trail laid for the hounds and some of the hounds began chasing the fox accidentally.
“At that particular moment there wasn’t a member of hunt staff nearby, but they did call the hounds off as soon as they could,” she said.
Hundreds of people attend the opening meet of the Beaufort and continue to support all hunts in the West, according to Barney White-Spunner, the chief executive of the Countryside Alliance.
He said a survey of hunts for the new season showed they were more popular than before the ban came into force. Figures showed more people follow hunts both mounted and on foot, and while more than half of hunts think they have roughly the same number of subscribers, almost a third say they have more since the moment hunting was banned in February 2005.
“Hunting remains in good heart and reports from around the country suggest that support is strong, despite the difficulties faced by staff and masters in dealing with the Hunting Act,” he said.
“A particular theme is the number of young people hunting, which can only bode well for the future, and it is to the future that we are always looking to remove the problems the law has brought for hunts, the police and in some cases the courts.
“The Hunting Act was an attack on rural people, rather than an attempt to improve animal welfare, which is why it has failed so spectacularly.”
Meanwhile, Bristol MP Kerry McCarthy has attacked the Prime Minister after it was revealed he went shooting in the 1990s and was given a rare-cooked stag’s liver to eat as a ‘rite of passage’ at a shooting dinner.
One of Mr Cameron’s old friends revealed yesterday that the Prime Minister ‘hid the liver under a salad to avoid eating it’, but Ms McCarthy said: “I think most people would find this pretty disgusting, but the old school, elitist, hunting, shooting, land-owning aristocratic classes have these bizarre rituals that most people wouldn’t indulge in.”
Columnist Bruce Anderson had recalled the meal in an article in the Spectator. He said it featured “a fresh liver from a young stag, cooked rare so that it seeps with blood – saignant, not bleu”.
He went on: “There were some wetties who were put off by the sight. Among their number, I regret to say, was the present Prime Minister.”