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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 February 2005, 22:19 GMT
Sadness turns to determination
By Sarah Mukherjee
BBC environment correspondent

Riders at the Duke of Beaufort's estate in Didmarton
The hunt lasted for two hours, instead of a full day
Yet again the weather matched the hunter's mood.

On Thursday, it was misty and dreary as huntsmen and women across the country shed a tear for the end of their ancient pursuit.

On Saturday it was crisp, bright and cold - and sadness turned to anger and determination as thousands gathered on foot and horse to, as one man put it: "prove the law a bloody ass".

The scene was not too dissimilar to the Saturday before hunting was banned.

'Beginning of the end'

The huntsmen of Gloucestershire's Beaufort hunt were out in their green and blue coats, the horses had brushed manes and tails plaited - but as to what they were going to do, not even the hunt master seemed certain.

At about 10am a few hounds were brought into a central ring to cheers and applause.

Several people, including the backbench Labour MP Kate Hoey, made passionate speeches urging people to hold "the faith" and ensure that the hunting community stays intact until they can reverse the law.

Ms Hoey said: "Today is the beginning of the end of the hunting ban."

Around the country, hunts were out in force and most hunt masters said support was high.

Anti-hunting groups did send monitors to keep an eye out for signs of illegal activity, but it seems that this was kept to a minimum.

Kate Hoey MP
Former sports minister Kate Hoey MP was out hunting on Saturday

As was the police presence around the country with some hunts reporting no officers on patrol at all.

However, the first arrests under the new legislation were made.

Four people were arrested by police in Wiltshire for illegal hunting of hares with dogs under Section 1 of the new Act.

They were caught in the early hours of Saturday morning by police officers carrying out a regular patrol.

The day's hunting with the Beaufort was much shorter than usual - just a couple of hours instead of all day.

But the point was, said the hunters, to prove a point - that they could go hunting within the terms of what one described as "this nonsense of a act".

In the local pub, as the sun set and a sprinkling of snow began to fall, the mood was a mixture of satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Political domain

Satisfaction that, to all intents and purposes, it had indeed looked and felt like a normal hunting day.

But there was unhappiness that it simply was not fox hunting.

The anti-hunting groups that had sent monitors across the country to check for illegal activity said they were pleased with Saturday's work.

And they say they have won the argument repeatedly: many times in the House of Commons and now in front of five judges, including two of the most senior in the land in the courts.

They are confident that, despite the fighting talk of the hunting community, this law will not be repealed.

But the hunters' strategy is now moving into the political domain.

Those who attended the Beaufort hunt were given a leaflet suggesting they should target marginal constituencies where anti-hunting MPs have seats in the forthcoming election.

The leaflet says: "Never underestimate the power of foot soldiers in a political campaign."

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