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Wednesday, 01 October 2014

Cumbria's hunting fraternity out in force for annual meets

SOFT ground caused by what could be the wettest year on record was no deterrent to the hunting fraternity, who turned out in force on Boxing Day.

The Bewcastle, Blenc-athra, Cumberland and Ullswater Foxhounds all went drag hunting, as did the Cumberland Farmers’ who met at Welton.

Thirty horses, 28 hounds and more than 120 followers congregated outside the Royal Oak and on the village green on what is the red-letter day of the hunting calendar. Master Peter Wybergh said: “It’s a good turnout. The ground is very soft so it’s not easy for the horses. Because of the wet weather we tend to get more foot followers and fewer horses.

“We are keeping to lanes and bridleways because the last things farmers want at the moment is a lot of horses going over their land.”

The followers on foot included Bill Brown, 76, of Rosley, who has been involved in the sport since he was a boy. He said: “It’s about what you see and who you see. You shake hands and wish people a merry Christmas.

“The problem we have is that a lot of people who don’t take part don’t understand it and are, perhaps, a little bit envious of the camaraderie we have.”

Since the ban on hunting with hounds was introduced in 2005, hunts follow a scent derived from foxes’ urine rather than chasing a real fox – a practice known as drag hunting.

Mr Brown said: “I think the sport is more popular now than it was before the ban. A lot of people think, ‘To hell with the Government, we’ve always done it and we always will’.”

He added: “We will hunt within the law until it changes.”

In contrast David Steel, 55, of Longlands Close, Carlisle, was attending his first hunt.

He said: “My wife Sarah has bought a horse and we’ve come to see him set off. I don’t agree with fox hunting but drag hunting is fine. Hunting is part of the country way of life and you have to accept it.”

Lucy Bedford, 25, of Torpenhow, was returning after a long break that saw the birth of her two children.

She said: “The last time I went hunting I was 14 and on a pony.

“This time I’m on a racehorse, Pointless, so he is bigger than what I’m used to.

“I really enjoy hunting because you can go out and let go. When you are doing show jumping or dressage you have to ride in a certain way but in hunting you can let go and enjoy it.”

An estimated 300 hunts met across the country on Boxing Day. The Government is committed to holding a free vote in Parliament on repealing the ban.

It is unlikely to be held in the next 12 months, however.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who supports hunting, told the Daily Telegraph: “There’s only a point having a vote if you’re going to win. At the moment, it would not be my proposal to bring forward a vote we were going to lose.

“There needs to be more work done on Members of Parliament.

“It is our clear intention to have a free vote but we need to choose an appropriate moment.”

Many Conservatives support repeal but most Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs are still in favour of the ban.

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