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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 02:27 GMT
Hunt vote threatens historic contest
hare coursing
The Waterloo Cup is the blue riband of the hare coursing calendar
MPs will vote on whether to ban hunting with dogs in England and Wales on 18 March.

Here, Jayne Hesketh looks at the history and traditions of the Waterloo Cup - one of the oldest hare coursing competitions in Britain.

Despite gruelling weather conditions, several thousand hare coursing supporters - and about 100 anti-hunting protesters - turned up for the opening of this year's Waterloo Cup, the blue riband of the hare coursing calendar.


Hare coursing is barbaric and has no place in modern society

Kevin Hegarty, RSPCA
The controversial three-day event has been thrown into even sharper focus by the announcement that MPs and Lords are to vote once again on a ban on hunting with dogs.

Many coursing enthusiasts who made the annual trip to Withins Field in Altcar, near Formby on Merseyside, fear this could bring to an end a 166-year tradition.

As spectators placed their bets, Dave Stocker, of the Countryside Alliance, said: "We were expecting the government to honour their election pledge but we were surprised by their timing.

'Fight all the way'

"The Countryside Alliance will fight for those who support hunting all the way."

Anti hare-coursing protester
Protesters say the sport must be banned
It was not long before the day's coursing began.

"Beaters" discharge the hares in the field, while a "slipper" releases two greyhounds together when the hare is at least 80 yards away.

As the dog approaches, the hare instinctively stops and changes direction.

Points are scored each time the dog forces the hare to turn before either the hare escapes or is killed.

A judge on horseback counts the points scored and indicates the winner by showing either a red or white handkerchief.

'Barbaric'

On average one in eight hares are killed during the event.

With up to 400 hares used, about 50 hares have died during this year's event alone.

It comes as little surprise that the RSPCA has welcomed the latest moves to ban hunting with dogs.

Spokesman Kevin Hegarty said: "Hare coursing is a barbaric sport and it has no place in modern society."


If coursing was banned, there would be no hares within a year

Charles Branning, National Coursing Club secretary

Earlier, about 100 protesters performed their annual "vigil" walk to the field and protested at the opening of the competition.

There was no violence but the atmosphere was tense as a group of 50 hare coursers confronted animal rights campaigners and were held back by mounted police officers.

Catalyst

Tony Moore, animal rights activist and member of Fight Against Animal Cruelty Europe, has campaigned against the Waterloo Cup since 1986.

He said: "I think the Waterloo Cup has been a catalyst which has sent the debate running again.

"Altcar is really a blot on the landscape as the Waterloo Cup is one of the last arena sports in the country, where there are crowds of people betting on the result of the torturing of an animal."

Charles Branning, secretary of the National Coursing Club, and respected author on the subject, does not feel opposers will succeed in their bid to outlaw the field sport.

He said: "If coursing was banned and the Waterloo Cup stopped, then within a year there would be no hares at Altcar at all."

Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

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The Scottish ban

Analysis

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