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Hunting always a minority activity – even in countryside

PUBLISHED: 09:00 02 January 2014 | UPDATED: 09:41 02 January 2014

Hundreds of people gathered to watch the Hadleigh Boxing Day Hunt.

Hundreds of people gathered to watch the Hadleigh Boxing Day Hunt.

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Once again we’ve had the annual Boxing Day ritual of a few dozen people turning up in smart costumes, supported by a hundred or so spectators, who maintain that fox hunting with dogs is vital to the future of the countryside.

Sky lanterns an appalling way to bring in the new year

We all have different ways of celebrating the New Year, but one of the least attractive new traditions is the release of burning candles into the atmosphere to see what they can set light to – or what animals they can kill or maim.

Sorry, I mean the release of sky lanterns to float above the ground for a few minutes before the person responsible loses interest and gets back to sipping the champers or whatever tipple they like.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has pointed out the dangers of these airborne incendiary devices – and it seems astonishing that the government has not taken any action against the menace.

I know people who live in thatched houses are very concerned about these lanterns floating around, there were reports of crops being set ablaze in the summer and a sky lantern was blamed for the huge fire at a Birmingham recycling centre.

Given the weather, fires are not perhaps the biggest danger at this time of the year. But lanterns can cause serious injuries, or death, to animals that find them in fields, woods, or at sea.

Along with balloons, they are a major concern for marine conservation campaigners – and farmers have reported livestock have been killed after attempting to eat the wire skeleton of the lanterns. Are these devices really worth all that pain for just a few seconds of interest?

It’s a humane and efficient way of keeping down the fox population. And without hunting with dogs large swathes of the countryside would become an economic desert.

Oh yes, and the moon is made of blue cheese and the earth is as flat as a pancake!

Let’s face it, hunting has always been a minority pastime – one that is only accessible to those with fairly substantial incomes – and it has been controversial for as long as I can care to remember.

I remember the first time I ever saw a hunt in my home village. There was quite a stir as all these posh people in red jackets rode through the street. It seemed quite exciting.

I was about eight or nine years old at the time, and when I told my school friends the next morning about it, one classmate told me exactly what happened at the end of a hunt. Apparently it was not just a game of tag with the fox!

From that moment on I’ve always been against hunting – and nothing I’ve heard or seen in the last 45 or so years has changed my mind.

I simply do not believe that chasing foxes with a pack of dogs across the countryside is an efficient method of pest control. I don’t believe that setting a group of specially-bred animals on to a single wild animal is humane. And I don’t believe that hunting is vital for the rural economy.

And as someone born on a Suffolk farm and brought up in a Suffolk village, I rather object to being told I don’t understand the countryside by an organisation whose head office is at Kennington Road, London SE11 4PT!

I have no objection to keen horse riders going for cross-country gallops across fields – providing farmers don’t object – but why do they have to take dogs with them?

The number of people taking part in this activity certainly doesn’t seem to have risen over the years, and I can’t help feeling that hunting is something that will eventually wither on the vine.

After all, the Countryside Alliance was crowing that 250,000 turned out to watch Boxing Day hunts. That’s 0.5% of the 56 million population of England and Wales.

Even in rural areas, hunting remains very much a minority concern.

If foxes are such a problem to the rural economy it would be better to control them by shooting them with a high-velocity rifle.
Having said that, the only problem I’ve ever heard about with rural foxes is that they can sometimes get into insecure chicken or turkey pens.

Surely the solution there is for poultry owners to check that their stock is left secure at night.

Editor’s note: We have always maintained a neutral stance on the controversial subject of hunting. However, we do respect the right of individuals to express strongly-held personal views – whether in support of, or against, hunting with dogs.

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