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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 February 2005, 05:27 GMT
Hunting: What next for all sides?
Countryside Alliance 'keep hunting' sign
The ban on hunting with dogs came into effect at 0001 GMT on Friday, ending an activity that has existed for centuries.

While anti-hunt campaigners anticipated the change with joy, hunt supporters campaigned to the last to try to get the legislation overturned. Their latest legal challenge failed on Wednesday.

Attention is now turning to whether the ban will be observed and how to enforce it.

Will the threatened scenes of mass unrest materialise or will hunting carry on unchanged? And how will those involved on all sides respond to the changes?

LEGAL HUNTING

It is unlikely the scale of civil disobedience anticipated late last year will happen.

Hundreds of thousands of hunt enthusiasts are expected to turn out in force on 19 February - the first Saturday after the ban comes into force.

WAYS TO HUNT LEGALLY
Hunting rabbits or rats instead of foxes or hares
Using no more than two dogs to flush out a fox to be shot
Drag or trail hunting (using an artificial scent to hunt with hounds)
Using hounds to flush out a mammal to be hunted by a bird of prey
Exercising packs of hounds without using them to hunt
Using terriers to flush and shoot foxes, to protect gamebirds

But the Countryside Alliance says most are meeting with the stated intention of hunting within the law.

A spokesman said while some hunts may intend to break the law, the group's current advice was that there were so many "holes" in the legislation that they should simply "go out there and ridicule it".

Atherstone Hunt, based in Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire, for example, said it plans to stick to activities such as "pleasure rides" and carrying out "pest control" for local farmers on its weekly Tuesday and Saturday hunts.

Drag hunting - chasing artificial scent laid by a runner or rider earlier in the day - is another option.

There are currently 33 hunts registered with the Master of Bloodhounds and Draghounds Association.

But many pro-hunt supporters claim few landowners would allow hunts across their land without the "benefit" of killing foxes, while the hounds used have to be trained to hunt with just their noses and not their eyes.

ANTI-HUNTING ORGANISATIONS

The League Against Cruel Sports is training hunt monitors to gather evidence of any illegal hunting but is reluctant to give away too many details.

It plans to pass evidence it collects to the police which will be considered "on its merits".

To do this it will be looking to provide "objective" video evidence.

It will also monitor factors such as hunts' subscription numbers, whether they are disbanding, whether they switching to drag hunting and what they do with hounds.

"We will only ever be out of business when people stop inflicting cruelty on animals in the name of sport," said a spokesman.

But it says it is not planning any demonstrations or "confrontational" actions on Saturday, when the first post-ban hunts are planned.

The RSPCA has also said it will monitor hunts and help with evidence gathering.

HUNT SABOTEURS

According to the Hunt Saboteurs' Association they plan to stay active "as long as they are out there hunting and there's any likelihood of them killing."

"We are still going to be out in the fields the same way as before," said a spokesman, "but we will be more interested in video evidence and covert surveillance.

"In the past our actions have been about saving the lives of animals. In fact that will still continue now there's a greater need for us to gather evidence.

"In some areas we will have a visible presence just so they know we are keeping tabs. But in other areas we will have people under cover - but I don't want to go into detail about that."

'ACCIDENTAL' BREACHES

The Countryside Alliance says it will be easy for hunts to "accidentally" break the law -for example if the dogs pick up the scent of a real fox while out trail hunting.

When it is impossible for a huntsman to reach his dogs in time and they kill the animal, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said there will be no prosecution as there was not "the intent" of allowing hounds to chase and kill a fox.

Hunts are likely to run little risk of being punished as proving what was a genuine accident and what a deliberate breach might be very difficult for police and the courts.

An Atherstone Hunt spokesman said: "If you've got a dog you will know you can't stop it if it gets hold of the scent of a rabbit, or something like that.

"In the same way, we wouldn't be able to stop our dogs."

HUNTING ABROAD

Some hunts and travel operators are looking at establishing links with hunts in France, New Zealand and the US, while many already offer hunts to the Irish Republic.

There is a traditional link between UK hunts and those in the Irish Republic, as many horsemen and women often travel there to try out and buy horses.

Regarding the US, most of past 'traffic' came the other way, with many Americans wishing to sample the traditional flavour of hunting in the UK.

The Pau-Hunt in south-west France was most recently a drag-hunting club chasing scent rather than an actual animal. It is establishing links with some UK hunts, plans to resume hunting foxes and could see many Britons permanently stabling their horses there.

Nigel Harvey, director of travel specialist Ride World Wide, said he was looking into offering weekend hunting trips to France as a result of the ban.

"It will be fairly expensive but then hunting here is as well. But we would do it so that you are staying in a chateau and have a big dinner."

HUNTING ILLEGALLY AND DAMN THE CONSEQUENCES

In November 2004 the Countryside Alliance said it expected 50,000 people to carry on hunting in the traditional manner, despite the ban.

Anecdotal evidence suggests a number of hunts, particularly in very rural areas, will continue.

HARE COURSING

A century ago the Waterloo Cup hare coursing event - in which a hare is pitted against two greyhounds - was Britain's biggest sporting event.

But under the terms of the hunting ban, hare coursing will also be outlawed.

According to the Countryside Alliance, substituting rabbits for hares will not be illegal and so the practice could continue in this form.

Illegal hare coursing is already widespread, particularly in Lincolnshire.

Anyone practising the sport must have a licence but there are have been reports of groups gathering at short notice in isolated fields for coursing.

The illegal sport always ends in the death of the hare, there is little control of the dogs and it can end with livestock being killed in the process.

THE POLICE

Police have been advised to make preserving public order and preventing harm their first priority - they are not expected to try to break up hunts suspected of breaking the law.

They are expected instead to concentrate on gathering evidence and prosecuting suspected ban-breakers after the event.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: "It's not going to be police officers chasing about in cars across fields, it will be based on intelligence and information received as well."

The decision on how to police individual hunts will be left to local forces, with more officers sent to hunts where disruption is expected.

THE GOVERNMENT

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael has said that while hunt supporters have the right to demonstrate legally and to take court action they do not have the right to flout a law passed by MPs

"The government has remained confident of its position throughout this challenge. We are also confident in respect of a quite separate action brought by the Alliance under human rights legislation," he said.

"It is important to realise that even if the Human Rights Act challenge were to succeed, this would not affect the continuing validity of the Hunting Act.

"The hunting community have always said they are law-abiding members of the community and I expect them to keep to their word.

"For now on, if people set out to hunt a wild mammal with dogs, whether it be a fox, a mink, a hare or a deer, they will be breaking the law. It will then be up to the police to investigate and to gather evidence for a prosecution.

"In terms of policing the ban, it will be for chief constables to determined how this is done."





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