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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 16:40 GMT
Mixed emotions in hunting town
By Liam Allen
BBC News

"Ladies and gentleman, 5.30pm, Windsor Castle for President Chirac."

Hounds at Cuxham, Oxfordshire
Hunt supporters say a ban will cost thousands of jobs

It is not unusual for the field master of a fox hunt to issue a rallying call at the start of a hunt.

But Helen Jackson's final instructions before the horseback members of the Vale of Aylesbury Garth and South Berkshire Hunt follow her into the fields must rank among the most unusual of such calls.

But then these are unusual times for hunting folk.

Ms Jackson's call to arms - thousands of hunt supporters are expected to protest outside a dinner held by the Queen for the French president and attended by Prime Minister Tony Blair - comes on the day when supporters look to have lost their battle to stop MPs outlawing hunting.

For the time being at least.

'Sad day'

"We're going to fight this all the way," Ms Jackson explained before the hunt in the picturesque village of Cuxham, Oxfordshire.

Joint master Alan Hill in Cuxham, Oxfordshire
It seems that you can legally go to Iraq and kill people but you're not allowed to hunt when all we're doing is killing vermin
Joint master Alan Hill

But despite Ms Jackson's never-say-die attitude, joint master Alan Hill admits the assembled hunt members are feeling dejected.

"It's a sad day.

"You've got to feel very down, let down, disappointed and down-hearted."

Like most hunt supporters he feels let down by what he sees as the government's "steamrollering" of the new law.

"It seems that you can legally go to Iraq and kill people but you're not allowed to hunt when all we're doing is killing vermin.

"If a fox looked like a rat would people feel this strongly?"

'Battle beginning'

But, while it is likely the new law will be passed on Thursday afternoon, hunt supporters say they will do all they can to see it repealed, both through legal channels and with the continuation of high profile protests like the one at Windsor Castle on Thursday.

Dave Lawrence
I've worked dogs and I think it's okay for them to kill a fox or a hare one-on-one but not to be hunted in a pack
Dave Lawrence

Mr Hill, 45, said: "This is the beginning of a battle - we're not beaten but of course it's a disappointing day."

His disappointment was not felt quite so strongly by the residents of neighbouring Watlington who spoke to BBC News.

Stonemason Dave Lawrence, 36, said he agreed foxes should be killed but that being chased to their deaths by "a pack of people, horses and dogs" was "logically not fair".

"I've worked dogs and I think it's okay for them to kill a fox or a hare one-on-one but not to be hunted in a pack."

But he said he was still unsure if a total ban was the right course of action because of the job losses it may lead to.

Graphic designer Simon Williams, 21, agreed the effect of the ban on people who relied on hunting for employment "would clear them out".

"But then hunting is brutal," he added.

"Essentially it's a blood sport."

Beatrice Bradley
They say that the countryside is exploding with fury well I can assure you it is not
Beatrice Bradley

Seventy-six-year-old Beatrice Bradley, who has opposed hunting since her childhood, says she is "very pleased I am going to see a ban in my lifetime".

"They say that the countryside is exploding with fury well I can assure you it is not," she said.

She has monitored the Vale of Aylesbury's hunts for a number of years, filming action to highlight what she sees as the "barbaric" treatment of foxes by the hunters.

"Think of a pack of hounds catching a fox - they swamp it then disembowel it - that can't be right."

But Mr Hill argues that foxes are killed instantly by a hound before the pack sets upon it when it is already dead.

'Welly brigade'

Mrs Bradley also criticises the "overriding arrogant attitude" of hunting folk who, she says, "feel they can do what they like".

She says this is partly because of "their influence and financial clout".

It is exactly this perception that many hunt supporters believe has led to them being singled out by the ban.

Annie South
This spiteful law has got to stop and we will do everything in our power to stop it
Annie South

"We are really fed up of people - in the media and in government - labelling hunting people as 'toffs'," said supporter Annie South.

"This is a law brought in by people who don't like the people they think are involved.

"The fact that we wear practical clothes for being in the countryside is picked up on and we're labelled as 'the green welly brigade'.

She says visitors to a hunt will see "every type of accent" and meet "all different types of people".

"This spiteful law has got to stop and we will do everything in our power to stop it."


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