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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
'Hunting is my livelihood'
Some of the 65 hounds tended by Kevin Farrow

Those who ride with the High Peak Hunt in Derbyshire refuse to accept that their sport could be banned. And for those whose livelihood depends upon the hunt, a ban would mean far more than a lost pastime.
Kevin Farrow always knew he was born to work with horses and hounds.

Kevin Farrow: "I'd break the law to hunt"
The son of a huntsman (one who trains hounds and guides them on a hunt), Mr Farrow could ride almost before he could walk. At the age of seven, he joined the local hunt to begin to learn how to follow in his father's footsteps.

Today, with 11 years as a professional huntsman behind him, he is optimistic that the proposed ban on hunting will never come into force. To ensure that the powers-that-be get the message loud and clear, he organised three of the 19 coaches setting off from Bakewell for the Countryside Alliance march.

And should the unthinkable (for him) come to pass, Mr Farrow says he plans to fight it every step of the way.

"If hunting is banned, I will lose my job and my home, for this house comes with the post. And if that happens, I'll be knocking at the door of 10 Downing St demanding my wages every Friday. If they want to get people off the dole, why don't they just leave us alone?"

Criminal acts

Furthermore, he is prepared to break the law and continue to hunt. "If a farmer has invited us onto his land, I don't see how the government can stop us. We have permission, and it is private land."

With canine friends at the High Peak Hounds kennel
And having already had a taste of direct action in support of farmers, taking part in a milk depot blockade over the price of a pint, Mr Farrow says he is quite prepared to consider more pointed ways of protesting against the ban, adding that he hopes it won't come to that.

But David Pearson, chairman of the hunt, treads a more cautious path than his headstrong huntsman.

"Our members will not break the law, but I say that because we're so optimistic that the ban will not go ahead. If there are restrictions on hunting put in place, then we'll stay within law.

"We just hope that the government will see sense - there are far more important issues facing this country than whether we can hunt."

Animal welfare campaigners do not accept that hunters will lose their homes or jobs should the ban be introduced. Chris Williamson, the Derbyshire representative of the League Against Cruel Sports, says: "All that hunts have to do is to convert to drag hunting where a scent is chased instead of a wild animal. Then no one would lose their job."

Once anti, now pro

Among those boarding the London-bound coaches will be others who earn their living servicing the hunt: Mr Farrow's groom (the whipper-in will stay behind to mind the hounds), vets, blacksmiths, feed merchants.

Although farrier Goff Cockain, of Belper, will not be joining the march, he will be with them in spirit. Hunt riders account for a just fraction of his business reshoeing horses, but a ban would still hit hard.

Derwent hunt
Livelihoods depend on hunting
"I mostly concentrate on the pleasure riders - little old ladies, kids who ride after school, and a couple of hunt dabblers who only go for the craic and would be mortified if they ever caught a fox.

"A ban would mean work would dry up for the farriers who do service the hunts, and they would come chasing my work." Having once been passionately anti-hunt, Mr Cockain says he is now a supporter.

"I used to find it abhorrent the way they went after the fox, even once it had gone to ground - I thought 'fair play, if it got away, leave it be.' But foxes are vermin and you have to dig vermin out, otherwise hunting really would be a bunch of knobs and snobs putting a fox through hell just for pleasure."

Give a dog a bone

Local farmers acknowledge that the hunt provides a valuable service - one that extends far beyond keeping the fox and hare populations in check.

Meat picked up from the farms to feed the dogs
"The hunt takes away my dead stock free of charge, because no matter how good a farm you run, you always get fatalities," says Chris Elliott, of Shepherd's Flatt Farm in Eyam.

"They feed the good flesh to the hounds and incinerate the rest. That saves me anywhere from 100 to 500 a year in knackers' fees."

Mr Farrow says the hunt foots the bill for this work - as well as get-togethers such as coffee mornings and an annual ball - as a sort of payment in kind for permission to ride across the farmers' land.

This dog works for its supper
"Everyone has a picture in their head that hunting is just a bunch of people in scarlet coats chasing poor little foxes and hares all year. That just isn't the case. The grafting that goes on to maintain the countryside - the fallen stock and all that - is 60% of my work.

"I don't do this job to make money. The hours that I put in, I'm not even on 1 an hour some days, but I do it because I love it. It's the way I was born and bred; it's my livelihood. If a ban comes into force, where am I going to go?"

Open in new window : March Route
Liberty and Livelihood March

The BBC's John Kay
"At 79 John Heywood suddenly finds himself a radical"
Huntsman David Jones
"I don't believe a total ban on hunting is the right way forward for the government"

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