Record support for the Countryside Alliance (CA) has resulted in spiralling membership, now totalling 107,438, up 8% on last year.

By contrast, the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) has had a 29% drop in membership income, which it links to post-ban “complacency”. Despite this, the group claims it has just over 20,000 members.

But according to its former chief executive Jim Barrington, now heading the pro-hunting Middle Way Group, LACS only ever enjoyed a high of about 18,000 members in the early 1990s.

“I’d be amazed if membership had reached that level — the 20,000 claim is like some of LACS’ other claims, which are quite exaggerated,” said Mr Barrington, who left in 1995.

Likewise, LACS former chief officer Graham Sirl (pictured), who left in 2001, told H&H in an interview in February: “Our membership then was about 8-9,000. I don’t know what it is now, but it didn’t go up a lot all the time I was there, I think it’s probably lower now than it ever was.”

CA spokesman Tim Bonner agreed the estimate was “difficult to believe”, adding: “Such a dramatic drop [in membership income] is symptomatic of public dissatisfaction with the animal rights movement across the board. It’s not a mass movement, but a small clique of extremist people who are out of touch with the rest of society.”

Based on LACS’ own figures, published in AGM papers, he said a calculation of total membership income of £69,047, divided by about £15-£20 per head (LACS charges £20 for standard membership, £10 “unwaged” and youth, £30 family/two adults, and £500 life membership) put membership between 3,452 and 4,603.

“LACS is concerned that its work will be undermined if people fully understand how little support the organisation has,” said Mr Bonner.

LACS spokesman Barry Hugill said the drop in membership income was “not a call for panic”, adding the “massive upsurge” in support prior to the Hunting Act was replaced with “a degree of complacency”.

“A number of people say the Act went through and it’s all over — of course we say it’s not,” said Mr Hugill.

The CA, meanwhile, at last week’s AGM announced it has 95,709 members in England and Wales, 7,076 in Ireland and 4,653 in Scotland. Tim Bonner said the 45,500 grassroots subscribers, who receive weekly newsletters, indicated even greater support.

“Record membership and broader support in the past 12 months shows there’s life beyond the Hunting Act, and that the rural community is still determined to carry on fighting prejudiced legislation.”

  • This news report was first published in Horse & Hound (22 June ’06)