THE decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute Mark Hankinson, chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, as a result of the leaked trail-laying conference last August, throws hunting under the spotlight once again.
Banned by the Blair administration 16 years ago today, hunting – to the distress of the Left – has never ‘gone away’.
Despite the bad news, those suffering Lenten gloom at the remorseless advance of the cancel culture should take heart from the continuing success of hunting.
Such jovial defiance best illustrates the growing fightback against the whole PC, statue-toppling, wokeist apparatchiks.
Two main reasons for the survival of hunting should gladden us all. First, the one million people involved in hunting with hounds have never accepted the Blair Act. Neither do plans to roll up game bird shooting or sport fishing have any traction in the countryside.
Activists should realise they cannot impose their views on a different set of people without those people first agreeing. People obey the law because, in the main, they agree with it.
In the recent pandemic this has been brought into sharp focus. Most of us gave the Government’s abolition of freedom of movement, of assembly and economic paralysis, the benefit of the doubt. That is unlikely to happen again. Boris be warned. Laws need to be well thought through and consensual.
Secondly, hounds hunt by sense of smell, not by sight. This is an important distinction, because it opens the way for trail-laying.
The sport lies in seeing whether the hounds can take the scent and follow it. We can supply this using artificial trails. There is always a way. If a law is wrong, think through its absurdities and act with confidence and determination.
I attended an MFHA trail-laying conference two years ago. Much of it dealt with how to handle a police inquiry and how to react to violence by hunt sabs (saboteurs).
We also discussed the laying of trails and what to use for scent. We import ours from South Dakota. I film this and cover miles, often pursued by the pack.
What maddens the sabs is our determination to carry on. They know they’re losing and resort to intimidation. These people turn up in terrorist-style ski masks brandishing pickaxe handles.
Their shouting and swearing is woeful to behold. Physical assaults on foot followers and hunt staff are appalling. Sabs are no respecters of animal welfare, spraying citronella on hounds, throwing bars at horses.
And yet we are supposed to accept these people have the moral high ground. Their negative yah-boo mentality makes their case risible.
By contrast, as a trail-layer, I hunt for the freedom to range across country, to enjoy the companionship of some of the finest, if most eccentric, people in the world.
A day’s hunting is a positive experience full of laughter and good cheer. Hunting crosses all social divides and is of inestimable value in bringing up children. One minute we may be talking to a senior hedge fund manager, the next a primary school kid on a pony.
I have struggled through hedges with gamekeepers and farmers, forded rivers with a car saleswoman and chased after errant hounds in the company of a carpet cleaner and a dinner lady.
I know successive prime ministers and kings of England have ridden to hounds, but I have yet to meet an aristocrat on the field of honour. Hunting protects wildlife, makes a sizeable contribution to the rural economy and helps social cohesion and mental health.
We should never accept the cancel culture. Hunting shows us we don’t have to. The day after Blair’s ban came in, the hunt met in a country market town and hundreds turned up.
More horses appeared than I can ever remember. One fellow I had not seen for some years clopped up on a retired carthorse.
‘What on earth made you take up hunting now of all times?’ I asked him. ‘Took it up because they banned it,’ he replied.