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Monday, 23 September, 2002, 08:02 GMT 09:02 UK
Fighting talk behind festive spirit
protesters, one dressed as a fox
Flat caps and hunting jackets were much in evidence

They start young, the countryside protesters.

A toddler sporting a "Liberty and Livelihood" badge spies a potential city dweller among the assembled marchers and shouts: "Nasty man!"

His parents smile an apology at the bemused woman heckled by their son, and head off to join the protesters marching on Westminster.

Marchers make their way along Whitehall
The marchers make their way along Whitehall
Among them are farmers, hunters, blacksmiths and villagers carrying placards and cut-outs of hounds and cows.

Hunting green, tweed and flat caps are much in evidence on young and old, as is the navy blue of the "Liberty and Livelihood" T-shirts sold by the Countryside Alliance ahead of the rally.

Stallholders in Hyde Park do brisk business in hot tea and whistles as the heaving throng begins the long, slow march through London's streets.

It is a rowdy, orderly gathering with a mood that is both festive and filled with fighting talk.

Noise and fury

As the first marchers head down Piccadilly, the biggest cheer comes when a lone piper strides past - the responding cacophony of horn and whistle blasts is almost deafening.

Sally and Daisy
Sally Bentall wants Daisy to have the choice to hunt
The racket wakes Daisy, the young daughter of Sally Bentall and Stephen Laurie, fish farmers in Cornwall who put off their honeymoon to join the march. The couple married on Friday, and came straight to London to demonstrate for their way of life.

"We sell mainly to tourists in summer but we need good local trade to keep us going throughout the year, mainly country pubs frequented by those into country sports," says Sally.

And Kevin Farrow, who trains hounds for the High Peak Hunt in Derbyshire, has swapped hunting green for funeral director's grab. To symbolise the threat to his livelihood, he is lead pallbearer on a coffin carrying the slogan, "One more nail".

Peter Hovig wants to keep hunting and shooting here
Also marching are supporters from as far afield as New Zealand and South Africa. Dutch lawyer Peter Hovig says he crossed the Channel to support friends he met on hunting and shooting holidays in the UK.

"I come here about 10 times a year as I can no longer hunt and shoot in the Netherlands," Mr Hovig says. "I just hope the English and Scottish people do not end up in the same position as me."

Animal welfare

Close to where the routes merge, a blimp floats above Trafalgar Square. "Ban fox hunting" it reads above the logos for various animal welfare groups.

anti-hunting blimp
Some marchers took exception to this blimp
A marcher breaks ranks and heads for the small knot of activists gathered where the blimp is tethered. "We've got more people than you," he shouts.

Natasha Cook, of the RSPCA, says that although it is not an official counter-demonstration, it is important to raise animal welfare concerns.

"We've had a couple of people trying to cut the rope, but in the main the marchers have just wanted to talk to us about hunting."

At the Cenotaph, shortly after the routes merge, a banner urges marchers to fall silent "to show respect and the strength of our feelings".

The only sound is the pulse of the helicopters filming overhead, but as soon as marchers have filed past the memorial, the horns, whistles and cheers ring out again - these are people who want their voices heard.

Differing views: Marchers pass the anti-hunt band
In Parliament Square the marchers pass a cluster of anti-hunt demonstrators, who make up in volume what they lack in numbers.

Under a banner proclaiming "Ban bloodsports", a samba band all but drowns out the marchers - some applaud and dance along to the anti-hunt beat, others give them the finger.

This prompts those manning a Countryside Alliance lorry to pump up the volume of their speakers with Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries.

Chill out

But once the marchers cross the finish line, the mood changes to quiet satisfaction.

From left, Annabel Allen, Abby Mercer and Oopsie Bishop of Shropshire
Some peel off for posh picnics in Parliament Square, others make for pre-determined meeting points for the journey home.

Annabel Allen, 20, and friends from the Wheatland hunt in Shropshire, are coming down off a high.

"We were at the counter when it passed the quarter of a million mark and the atmosphere was electric," she told BBC News Online.

"Everyone has gone quiet now from so much whistling and yelling, so we are off to find a pub to recover in."

It was a family day out for Emma Farquharson (right] and her relatives
Another early finisher, Emma Farquharson, of Fulham in west London, recuperates in Parliament Square with family from around the UK.

None of Emma's brothers and sisters hunt, but her parents have a shoot in Dorset, and the family was raised in the country.

"It's great to see this many people speak on their feet. And it's not just about fox hunting - it is civil liberties in the countryside."

Her sister Alexandra Norman, of Nottinghamshire, adds: "Because most of the voters live in the city, that is who the government listens to. But hopefully this will make them hear what we have to say."

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