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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 13:41 GMT
Hounds follow trail to tradition
By Eleanor Williams
BBC News, New Forest

New Forest Hounds
The huntsman leaves with his pack of hounds
On the face of it the meet looks like a traditional foxhunt - riders in red coats, horses' coats gleaming and a pack of hounds howling its way through the forest on a crisp and clear November day.

But they are not hunting foxes.

After the ban on hunting with hounds came into force in February, hunts across the country turned to other ways of continuing the tradition.

The New Forest Hounds have taken up trail-hunting.

Their latest meet is at a manor house near Lyndhurst and there is no shortage of people wanting to take part, on horseback as well as on foot.

There is no sign of any anti-hunt campaigners or police. Only a lone forest keeper has turned up.

The three trail layers set off first, dragging a rag soaked with a scent behind them as they ride off.

Trail layers
The trail layers remain about ten minutes ahead of the hounds

The hounds pick up the trail and soon the riders start to emerge from the gates of Ipley Manor.

Those opposed to foxhunting have been celebrating the ban, but most people taking part are less than pleased.

Many of the foot followers say they are disappointed. The hunt, they say, has lost its appeal with there being no chase.

Master of the hunt Paul Ames said people should not compare the two.

"It's totally different. It's been a wonderful challenge.

"Obviously we don't like that we can't hunt foxes any more, but the challenge has been great.

"We've had more abuse from the public this season than before. People still seem to think we're hunting a fox," he said.

"Although animal rights people seem to have given us the thumbs up."

New Forest Hounds
There has been an increase in youngsters taking part

A spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports said it supported trail-hunting.

He said: "As long as hunts are converting to trail-hunting and not using it as a cover-up for foxhunting then we're all in favour of it.

"Our only concern is that some hunts are using it as a cover-up."

He said the league has had trained monitors out on hunts using video equipment and was reporting any suspicious evidence.

"But if it's done by the book and they are playing by the rules and the pack is kept under control we have no objection."

The tradition of hunting is deeply rooted here. The New Forest - now a national park - was originally a royal hunting forest established by William the Conqueror in 1089 and the New Forest Hounds hunt has been around since 1781.

But how can hounds, bred for generations to hunt and kill live foxes, be retrained to follow a false trail?

New Forest Hounds
The hounds have been 'retrained' to follow an artificial scent

Mr Ames admits it has not been easy and the hounds showed a lack of confidence.

"They were hunting silently in the beginning. We could not get them to speak," he said.

But after a lot experimenting with scents and trying different ways of laying the trail the hard work seems to have paid off.

Dismounting his horse covered in mud, Mr Ames declares the day's hunt a success.

"Wonderful," he shouts. The hounds had followed the track and had performed perfectly.

But do they always stick to the trail or do they still pick up on the scent of a fox?

The nearest to an answer anyone will give is: "How do you prevent hounds, bred for generations to hunt foxes and trained to follow no other scents apart from that of a fox, to ignore it?"

But they insist they are keeping within law and if the hounds finds a fox they are called off.

With the first season under the ban well under way it seems the New Forest Hounds may still have a future - albeit with a different form of hunting.

SEE ALSO
Hunts 'not a priority' say police
12 Nov 05 |  Hampshire

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