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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 February 2006, 16:09 GMT
Hunting with hounds and a duster

This week marks the first anniversary since hunting with hounds (already banned in Scotland) became illegal throughout Britain. But hunt activities continue and no-one has been prosecuted. BBC One's The Last Tally Ho? has followed a traditional hunt over the last 12 months.

a huntsman at sunset

"You know I don't make speeches. I hate making them. I'm bad at it.

"But there are always exceptions in life and today is one of them." Today's huntmaster, Countess Susie Goess-Saurau is in defiant mood.

It is Thursday 17 February 2005 and the last day on which hunting would remain legal. From the saddle, she addresses the assembled hunt and supporters.

"It's a black day for hunting today but it's a blacker day for the Labour government and for British politics. It is an utter disgrace.

"I will not have what I love and hold dear taken away from me by a load of faceless, self-satisfied, smug plonkers sat on their large bottoms in Whitehall. Bugger them.

"We will win this and we damn well will win it. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our children and beyond that we owe it to our hounds."

One year on
Countess Susie Goess-Saurau
Countess Susie Goess-Saurau is joint Hunt Master of the VWH

Twelve months later, The VWH (Vale of the White Horse) Hunt on the borders of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire is still in business.

The defiance that brought 400,000 Countryside Alliance supporters to London to protest has survived the ban.

Since the new hunting season began in November, the sound of the hounds and the horn, and the sight of red coats have been as visible in the countryside as ever.

Susie is in the saddle again. "Good morning Ladies and Gentleman, lovely to see you all out this morning."

"We'll be going trail hunting, following a line of artificial scent, we'll be laying it in to covers and lifting it, to try and emulate the natural movement of a fox. "

Here's a fox we killed earlier... jumped right in front of hounds while we were trying to lay a trail... it is unavoidable and unintentional
Richard Lovett
Richard Lovett, who works for the hunt, sends off a number of riders trailing yellow dusters.

One of the dusters is impregnated with artificial scent. The others are to confuse the hunt and incidentally anyone else who happens to be watching.

'Accidents'

When the pack approach, a fox will sometimes break cover and then, for the hounds, instinct takes over. A number of so-called 'accidents' befall the hunt, as Richard Lovett explains.

"Here's a fox we killed earlier... jumped right in front of hounds while we were trying to lay a trail... it is unavoidable and unintentional... it's what hounds have done for hundreds of years and it's happened again today"

But Mike Hobday, Head of Public Affairs at the League Against Cruel Sports, denies that killing foxes is unavoidable.

"It is easy to prevent so-called 'accidents' happening. The hunt will know very well where there are likely to be foxes, and could easily choose to lay trails over open country, well away from regular fox habitats."

I'm sure the police will be very interested in this programme
Mike Hobday, League Against Cruel Sports
It's estimated that around 900 foxes have been killed since the ban. And there have been over 200 allegations of illegal hunting against 89 different hunts. But no one has been convicted.

Uncharted waters

Richard Lovett with  a dog
Richard Lovett works as terrierman for the VWH
The Countryside Alliance remains intent on overturning what it calls the "temporary ban". At its website, it offers detailed guidelines on how to hunt legally with foxhounds.

"Trail hunting is likely to be the most used option for the duration of the temporary ban," it explains and along with all the advice, there is a disclaimer: "We are swimming in uncharted waters and it is for the courts to decide whether people have broken the law".

But Mike Hobday from the League of Cruel Sports says the law is clear.

"It is illegal for hounds to chase a fox under any circumstances. Should they start to do so, the huntsman should be in control and must call them back immediately. I'm sure the police will be very interested in this programme."

While the Countryside Alliance has sought to maintain a high-profile confrontational campaign, others see it differently.

Julian Weston has been hunting since the age of six. He is one of almost 200 members who pay for the privilege of riding out with the VWH.

"I'm genuinely pleased we're not in the headlines any more .. because we can quietly carry on doing what we're doing and it's not an issue any more."

"We got under cover today and we laid a bit of a trail around. Two foxes popped out. I mean, they're in the covers - what are we going to do about it?

"It's quite obvious at times they (the hounds) are hunting a fox and having a wonderful time doing it.

"We eventually stopped them, but, you know, it was like the old times for a few minutes. That's the bit we enjoy.

"It's a shame that we can't just let them do that and carry on without worrying about the fact that we're not allowed to. That's always the thing at the back of our mind."

The Last Tally Ho? is on BBC One on Sunday 12 February at 2215 GMT

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