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Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Jobs and homes 'under threat'
Julian Barnfield:
Julian Barnfield: "Won't give up without a fight"
The Countryside Alliance claims that 16,000 jobs are at risk should a ban on fox hunting be put in place. BBC News Online's Liz Doig met some of the people who say their livelihoods are threatened.

Heavy, almost tropical, bursts of rain are lashing the yard of Cotswold Kennels, home to the horses, hounds and seven servants of the Cotswold Hunt.

Mid-August is a quietish time of year for the animals and employees of this hunt. Horses and hounds are having their strength and stamina built up for the rigours of the season to come, when hunting might take place five times a week.

Huntsman Julian Barnfield looks after the kennel's 100 foxhounds, oversees the care of the horses, and is the force that knits the organisation of the hunt together.

cotswald hunt kennels
The hounds of the Cotswald Hunt
Like the other servants of the Cotswold Hunt in Gloucestershire, he lives in tied accommodation, which he was in the process of re-decorating.

Mr Barnfield said: "It's difficult at the moment to be sure of what to do with the house - we just don't know what the future holds. If fox hunting is banned in the next session of parliament, as Tony Blair has said it will be, me, my wife and our two daughters could be out of a home."

After working for the Worcester Hunt, Mr Barnfield, 36, has now returned to Andoversford, the village where he grew up and first worked in kennels.

He is not only fearful of what the future may hold, but is also "extremely angry" that the homes and livelihoods of he and his colleagues are being threatened in what he sees as a continued and unjustified assault on the country way of life.

"This whole issue has nothing to do with the fox," he said. "It is a class issue - people think that if you're involved with the hunt then that means you are snooty, aristocracy maybe.

horses and hounds
Exercise for horses and hounds
"Historically, that may have been true - but fox hunting is any man's game. I grew up in a council house here in Andoversford. Nobody in my family had ever ridden a horse, because they never had the opportunity to, but I was interested and I started working at the kennels.

"No-one can accuse me of being upper class, and the people who follow the hunt come from all different backgrounds."

Another - and largely unreported - facet of the hunt's work is in clearing "fallen stock", dead animals, from farms and race tracks.

The Cotswold Hunt's knacker van is a common sight at Cheltenham Race Course. Should some unfortunate beast die, the servants of the hunt take the carcass away either free of charge, or for a nominal fee.

They also act on behalf of the local vets in shooting and disposing of elderly or stricken animals from farms and equine establishments in the locality.

The economy is simple - the farmer doesn't have the expense of calling a knacker man, and the hunt gets a regular supply of meat for its dogs.

Mr Barnfield points out that if the hunt goes, this service will go too. "Given that farmers are not having an easy time of things either at the moment, it makes you wander what will happen to their fallen stock if the hunt is not around to take it away," he said.

"Another part of my job is to go fencing and ride cutting - that is I manage areas of countryside.

"Hunting is a sport, there's no denying it. It's a sport which gives a lot of pleasure to a lot of people - but it does not detract from the countryside, it enhances it. The fox thrives in areas where the hunt is.

"Nature is cruel. Anything which involves killing is cruel. The fox is going to be killed one way or the other and we know this to be the least cruel way."

Unlike Mr Barnfield, groom Sarah Ward, 25, feels she may be able to get work elsewhere if the hunt is outlawed - but she does not relish the prospect.

"There are other areas I could go into - showjumping or eventing, but there will be a lot of competition for the jobs if the hunt is banned," she said.

sarah ward
Sarah Ward: "We're all scared"
"I am quite scared, we all are really. The general feeling is that we won't give up without a fight.

"It won't just be us, either. We had the farrier around here for two hours this morning - and could easily use him for an hour a day. That's a lot of his work gone if the hunt goes."

Bob Whitehead, who owns PSB Animal Requisits Ltd, which supplies feed and sundries to farms and stables, says he will almost certainly have to let staff go if the ban happens.

He said: "I have a 1.5m annual turn-over, and approximately 20% of that is from the hunt. I employ seven people - so it doesn't take a great deal of maths to work out something is going to have to give.

"There is the argument that people will not stop riding just because the hunt stops - and to some degree there will be people who continue to ride on a hobby basis.

"But the hunt provides people with all levels of horsemanship to have a jolly good ride across open country.

"People aren't going to switch to drag hunting - anyone who knows anything about the countryside or horses knows that that's an uninformed suggestion.

bob whitehead
Bob Whitehead: "Will have to let staff go"
"Quite simply, farmers will not allow drag hunting on their land - they won't get anything out of it, it provides no service for them."

Mr Barnfield added: "I feel extremely privileged to live the life that I do, and I am not going to give it up without a fight.

"I can honestly say that I never have a day when I get out of my bed thinking I don't want to go to work - and there aren't many people who can say that - and I am proud of what I do."

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

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