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Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 15:58 GMT
The hunt bites back
The Suffolk Hunt gets under way
Show of strength: The Suffolk Hunt gets under way
By BBC's News Online's Dan Coles

It takes a loud voice to drown out the sound of a barking pack of hounds.

But, echoing through the fields of Suffolk, is a message for the government: "Listen to us."

It is the biggest Suffolk hunt yet - a show of defiance ahead of the Commons vote on banning fox hunting.

The government comes under fire
"No more Mr Nice Guy": The government comes under fire
Beside thousands of hunt supporters are 300 riders, many dressed in the bright red of the ringmaster. They hope their passion will not go the way of the three-ring circus.

There is not much sign that anti-hunt protesters have made it to the freezing expanses of Higham racecourse.

The hunters, many wearing "Back off Blair" badges, have the floor to themselves.

"We have a united resolve to stay on the rural map," booms the voice of the secretary of the Suffolk Hunt, Ian Finch.

Ritual

"I hope this makes it clear to the world that we are not going to go away."

There are cries of "hear, hear" and a ripple of applause.


We are not a minority of silly people wearing silly costumes

George Bowyer, Master of the Fitzwilliam
But there is a hint of the inevitable in his voice and the union flag hangs limp behind him.

The speakers go on, attacks on the prime minister getting the biggest cheers.

The media, perhaps sensing one of the last chances to film this colourful ritual, hover in a helicopter overhead.

George Bowyer, Master of the Fitzwilliam, is prepared to go to jail to defend fox-hunting.

"This is for the ears of the idiots in Westminster," he says.

Protest banners call for
Protest banners call for "liberty"
"We are not going to sit down and be stamped on any more. We are not a minority of silly people wearing silly costumes.

"This is the start of no more Mr Nice Guy."

Mike Burley is among the converted. He thinks the government is "narrow-minded".

"It's disgraceful that the government is thinking of restricting the activities of the countryside," he says

Is the traditional hunting uniform soon to disappear?
Is the traditional hunting uniform soon to disappear?
He is sceptical of the need for a compromise.

"There are always accidents but I don't really see a need for licensing."

Another supporter said: "It's all about the freedom of choice.

"Come to these meetings and listen. You could not get closer to the truth."

As a bugle sounds and the hounds run barking into the distance, politicians begin to debate whether the sport will also vanish.

But these people are determined to make sure that if hunting is banned, the countryside will not necessarily become a quieter place.

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See also:

17 Jan 01 | UK Politics
MPs prepare for hunt ban vote
17 Jan 01 | Talking Point
Does fox-hunting have a future?
16 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Long road to hunting ban
16 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Labour 'will not pledge hunt ban'
15 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Hunting for victory
21 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Hunting Bill clears Commons hurdle
09 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Labour MPs welcome hunting pledge
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