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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Many are showing their support for hunting"
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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 17:29 GMT
Hare coursing hunt row

hare and hound
A greyhound sets after a hare at the Waterloo Cup

Supporters and opponents of field sports have turned out in force for the country's biggest hare coursing event.

The three-day Waterloo Cup is being held on farmland at Ormskirk, near Southport, in Lancashire, and dates back to 1836.

Anti-hare-coursing protesters at Waterloo Cup Hare-coursing faces a ban along with fox-hunting
But it is under threat and would be outlawed if new laws were passed banning hunting with dogs.

The sport was in decline a decade ago, but with its future threatened, supporters turned out in their thousands.

They were met with jeers and banners from animal rights supporters who say the sport is cruel to hares.

Hare coursing pitches two greyhounds head to head.

Over the course of three days, 64 greyhounds will be paired up against each other in a knock-out competition chasing hares, testing the dogs' speed, agility and endurance.

Ken Livingstone MP at the Southport event
Although the hare escapes on most occasions, in some cases it is killed.

Supporters use the same arguments as those backing fox-hunting, saying jobs would be lost, dogs destroyed and hares shot by farmers if the sport was banned.

Greyhound trainer John Bromiley said: "Not a single hare would be saved. Instead they would be shot by farmers."

But Labour MP Ken Livingstone, currently at the centre of speculation over whether he will stand as an independent candidate in London's mayoral elections, condemned hare-coursing.

Not sporting

The Brent East MP, who attended the first day of the Waterloo Cup event, is attempting to ban hunting with dogs with a Private Member's Bill which gets its second reading in the Commons on 7 April.

pro hunting at waterloo Hunting supporters turned out in force
He said: "I am not in favour of tearing animals apart. That does not seem very sporting to me."

Mr Livingstone watched the favourite, Grisham, take the first kill of the day, and told hecklers that he thought any sport should not involve cruelty to another animal.

He said: "The prime minister gave a commitment in Question Time that a ban on hunting should succeed and I think we will be able to ban it.

"I am not a vegetarian, but what I want to see is that animals that are raised for the benefit of humans are raised and killed humanely.

"I do not like the cheer that went up when that hare was killed."

The BBC's environment correspondent Margaret Gilmore says the prospect of hare coursing being banned brought a new significance to the annual event, with huge crowds of both pro and anti-hunt supporters.

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See also:
22 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
MPs call for hunting code
16 Sep 99 |  Fox hunting
Deer, hare and mink
26 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Stars press for hunt ban
15 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Livingstone hunt ban bill rides out

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