Hunting is alive and kicking

Buccleuch Hunt. Trevor Adams, buccleuch hunt joint master Johnny  exercises  the hounds at the kennels at Greenwells, Eildon.
Buccleuch Hunt. Trevor Adams, buccleuch hunt joint master Johnny exercises the hounds at the kennels at Greenwells, Eildon.

FEARS a ban on hunting would lead to job losses and the slaughter of hounds have proved groundless, according to statistics out last week.

Country sports supporters, Countryside Alliance surveyed UK hunts and found nearly a third have more followers now. And rather than local economies being hit, with huntsmen, farriers, feed merchants and other businesses affected, some hunts are going out more and nearly two thirds feel there is greater community support for them now.

Buccleuch Hunt chairman and former Scottish Countryside Alliance director, Allan Murray said support locally for hunting remained strong since the introduction of the ban 10 years ago, and that generally there had been a “huge upturn” in interest.

He told us: “The Borders is the backbone of hunting in Scotland. It’s a very popular activity which is going to continue. It’s down to land owners and managers: without them there would be no country sport and we are extremely fortunate.

“I think the community here welcomes the hunt for a variety of reasons – community spirit, the social gathering as well as what it brings to the local economy.”

The Buccleuch Hunt goes out three times a week during the winter, providing a fox control service to farmers, as does the Border Hunt, while the Jed Forest usually meets twice a week. Other local hunts are the Liddesdale, the Berwickshire and the Lauderdale.

Of the 320 hunts registered in the UK, 123 responded to Countryside Alliance’s questionnaire, including the Border and the Jed Forest, among four from Scotland.

Nearly 60 per cent of hunts had about the same number of supporters on horseback and on foot, while 30 per cent said they had more. Over 80 per cent hunted as much as they did before, with 10 per cent going out more. Most hunts (over 85 per cent) still assist farmers and other land managers by culling foxes. Just under 40 per cent thought more foxes had been killed since the ban, while about the same number said there had been no change. Over half of hunts went out two days a week. More than 80 per cent have the same number of hounds since the ban, with five per cent keeping more and nearly 15 per cent less.

Just two of the hunts which replied are always followed by animal rights activists, while more than a quarter are never targeted.

More than 60 per cent of hunts felt better supported by their local communities, while a third said support had remained the same.

Onekind’s (formerly Advocates for Animals) Libby Anderson said: “When the Scottish Act came into law 10 years ago, the hunting lobby made dire predictions of job losses and the wholesale destruction of horses and hounds, but in fact hunts are still active north of the border. It is still possible to hunt without subjecting a sentient mammal to a prolonged chase and a cruel death in the jaws of the hounds. That is a wildlife crime, and rightly so. However, foxes can be flushed and shot, although we do have concerns that this is not always done as quickly as possible.

“From our perspective, the Scottish debate was only ever about animal welfare.”

Mr Murray said there has been a “huge surge” in country activities and interest in them since the ban.

Buccleuch Hunt takes their hounds to fairs and shows throughout the country and he said: “The amount of interest shown in the hounds by the public, many of whom have never seen them, is phenomenal. We get a huge response in areas where there is no hunting. People can come in and stroke the hounds and kids think this is fantastic. We want to encourage everybody who wants to go hunting to come and give it a go.”