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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Rural Wales shows march support
The hunting debate is one of the key concerns of marchers
Farming communities throughout Wales have pledged to join the mass weekend countryside rally in London.

Around 15,000 people from Wales alone are expected to take part in the Liberty and Livelihood march on Sunday, organised by the Countryside Alliance.

But there are concerns that campaigners from more militant organisations may attempt to cause unlawful disruption.

protest banners
Support has been growing in rural areas

Organisers have claimed the non-violent show of strength they have planned will send a clear message to the UK government that it must listen to the rural lobby.

Although the march is a protest designed to highlight a range of issues, one of the most emotive has been the government's plan to ban hunting with dogs.

Many opposed to the ban fear that their livelihoods would be at risk if such a move went ahead.

And there have been warnings from some quarters that Sunday's event could be hijacked by lobbyists intent on using more aggressive tactics to drive home their message.


We've got tens of thousands of people ready to break the law

Brian Hughes, Llangeinor Hunt

Road blockades have been threatened, as have actions to disrupt political business at Westminster.

Farrier Brian Hughes, master of the Llangeinor Hunt, near Bridgend, south Wales, has admitted his patience has been sorely tested. He said he now feared for his livelihood.

"I've got my son as an apprentice, my wife as the secretary - we're fully employed shoeing horses," he explained.

"From October until the end of March, our work is totally with hunters, and if hunting is banned, it will put us all out of work."

'Disruption'

Mr Hughes said he hoped Westminster would take heed of the warnings.

"If they see we feel strongly enough, I think the government will back off. We've got tens of thousands of people ready to break the law, block roads, or do whatever we have to. We'll disrupt parliament if necessary."

One Welsh huntsman who wished to remain anonymous told BBC's Newsnight that some of those planning to attend the march had no qualms about breaking the law.

"We are so frustrated," he said. "We feel alienated - we've been driven to these actions.

Mark Hinge : picture from Countryside Alliance
Mark Hinge : "Amazing" response from Wales

"There are those among groups that we know who are willing to take a lot of drastic measures.

Mark Hinge, the Countryside Alliance's political director for Wales, said he hoped the march would remain peaceful.

He said the response from Welsh rural communities showed that people living in the countryside had to be treated with respect.

Organisers 'impressed'

"I have been amazed at the huge take-up on coaches," he said.

"This, together with requests on how the young, old, disabled and less able can make their own contribution, means that we will be looking at a huge turnout from Wales."

National organisers have been impressed with the response so far.

March director James Stanford has predicted that Sunday's event will be "the largest peacetime demonstration in British history".

Alun Michael
Alun Michael chaired the hunting discussions

Farming union leaders hope the rally will draw attention to the wide variety of problems facing those working in the countryside.

Last week, the National Farmers Union in Wales used the Welsh Assembly headquarters to launch its Farming Counts campaign - aimed at making the public aware of the differences between supermarket prices and farmgate prices.

NFU Cymru spokesman Keith Jones said the union hoped the march would reinforce that message.

Farmers' Union of Wales president Bob Parry said his members believed the march would symbolise the "growing anger and frustration" felt by many people who lived and worked in the countryside.

'Countryside voice'

"It is a sad indictment of the country we live in that the only way to get the voice of the countryside heard in the corridors of power is to stage a massive demonstration on this scale," he said.

Proposals for new laws on the future of hunting with dogs are expected to be unveiled by ministers in "a matter of weeks".

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael announced the timescale following the end of a three-day discussion with interested bodies.

Experts and campaigners from all sides of the debate took part in the Westminster hearings, which took evidence from pro- and anti-hunt campaigners, as well as those who have called for legal regulation of the practice instead of a ban.

Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

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See also:

17 Sep 02 | UK
04 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
21 Mar 02 | Politics
04 Sep 02 | Wales
01 Aug 02 | Scotland
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