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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 13:45 GMT
Fox hunting resumes
A bill to ban hunting may mean the restart is temporary
Fox hunting has returned for the first time in 10 months as a ban designed to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease is eased.

Up to 30 of Britain's estimated 300 hunts have been given special licences to hunt with hounds after proving they have measures in place to help prevent a return of the disease.

It has been a glimpse of the hardship that would be faced if hunting was outlawed permanently

Ian Farquhar, joint master of the Beaufort Hunt
More than 250 countryside enthusiasts turned out for the Beaufort Hunt, on the Swangrove Estate near Badminton, South Gloucestershire.

A handful of hunts, including those in north Wales and Northamptonshire, will ride on Monday, according to the Countryside Alliance's Campaign for Hunting.

Ministers suspended hunting in February when foot-and-mouth first broke out and it will still be banned in 'infected' or 'at-risk' areas, including Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Northumberland.

Foot-and-mouth led to the slaughter of millions of farm animals and it was feared fox hunting could spread the disease to unaffected areas as horses and hounds covered a wide area.

Resumption welcomed

The Beaufort Hunt is one of the first to be granted a licence.

The joint master of the hunt, Ian Farquhar, said he was "delighted" hunting was underway again.

"A whole industry has been at a standstill during this ban.

"It has been a glimpse of the hardship that would be faced if hunting was outlawed permanently".

Mary Hibberd, bed and breakfast owner, said: "For country people it is their heart and soul.

"There is just nothing if there is no hunting."

Campaign for Hunting director Simon Hart said the end of the ban was "a huge boost both economically and in terms of morale in rural communities".

He added: "The suspension of hunting had massive economic implications.

"This will help get business back and secure jobs in rural areas."

Mr Hart said around 1,000 people directly depend on hunting for their livelihood , with the practice worth around 250m a year to the rural community.

He said farmers also want to start controlling the fox population again as lambing starts later this month, he added.

Infected areas

Measures in place to ensure hunting does not spread foot-and-mouth include a ban on the ride entering 'infected' areas.

Details of the route taken must be submitted afterwards and if vets have any concerns about the risks a hunt might pose the application will be rejected.

Farmers want to control fox numbers before lambing starts
The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs said anyone taking part in the hunt must live in a disease-free county and must not have visited agricultural land deemed "at-risk" or a "high-risk" in the week before the hunt.

Spectators will be encouraged to follow the hunt from public roads.

A Defra spokesman said: "When foot-and-mouth started spreading hunting with hounds was considered very risky.

"We are at the stage now of having a system whereby hunting can resume under conditions that minimise any risk of jeopardising the disease control situation."

The last case of foot-and-mouth was confirmed on September 30.

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Hunting was stopped by foot and mouth"
Tony Holdsworth, Beaufort Hunt
"I hope and pray foot-and-mouth doesn't come back"
See also:

12 Dec 01 | Scotland
Safety warning for hunt ban MSPs
03 Nov 01 | UK
Fox hunters seek end to ban
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