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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 22:00 GMT
Hunting is 'a way of life'
Essex and Suffolk hunt
Huntsmen fear a political compromise
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By BBC North of England correspondent Kevin Bocquet

It was a ruthless morning for the Ullswater Hunt.

Their latest meeting has brought them to Hartsop Dod, a towering hill about five miles south of Ullswater Lake.

It's [Hunting] not just something we do for fun at weekends

Huntsman John Harrison

But the wind, blowing off the Pennines from the east was too dry to carry a scent.

And for huntsman John Harrison, that meant four thankless hours tramping the fells behind his 15 pairs of hounds.

Worrying times

But as he coaxed the exhausted animals back onto their trailer for the journey home, Mr Harrison had more worrying issues on his mind.

Pro-hunt campaigners protest at Downing Street
The hunts go on as MPs vote in London
Over the next 24 hours, MPs and the Lords will vote on proposals which could mean the beginning of the end for hunting with dogs.

They will consider three options.

They may favour an outright ban on all hunting with dogs or no change to the existing legislation.

Thirdly a compromised deal would be likely to involve a strict licensing system for foxhunting in areas where it is considered a necessary form of pest control.

As he cast eyes across the spectacular South Cumbrian landscape and considered the decisions being made 350 miles away in London, Mr Harrison found it hard to hide his bitterness.

He said: "I just wish a few more MPs would come and see exactly what we do.

"Hunting is a way of life here. It's part of the landscape.

"It's not just something we do for fun at weekends."

Bans opposed

The Ullswater Hunt is a footpack. There are no horses involved.

The hunt followers scramble across the fells, trying to catch a glimpse of the pack across the wide sweeping valleys.

We are rock solid in our opposition to a ban of any sort on hunting with dogs

Dave Stocker
Countryside Alliance

Today, they are disturbed by rumours of another possible political compromise, which could see foxhunting continue under strict legislative controls, while other forms of hunting, like hare-coursing and stag-hunting are banned.

Dave Stocker, of the Countryside Alliance, said: "Among hunting people, that would be considered a sell-out.

"We are rock solid in our opposition to a ban of any sort on hunting with dogs.

"If they ban stag hunting or hare-coursing, the fox hunters will still be out on the streets protesting in force."

And ironically, the pro- and anti- foxhunting lobbies could find themselves united in opposing a partial hunting ban.

Compromise rejected

Kevin Hegarty, of the charity the RSPCA, said: "It would get no support from us.

"You can't compromise on cruelty.

"If it's cruel to kill hares and stags, then it's cruel to kill foxes.

"We need a complete ban on all forms of hunting with dogs."

Mr Harrison and his hounds will be back on the fells later this week.

They hold three or four meetings a week, for nine months of the year, and catch around 80 foxes a season.

It is Mr Harrison's job and his life, but for how much longer is anybody's guess.

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See also:

18 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair hunts a way out
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