Foxhunting received the largest number of votes in the Icons of England poll, but it has not been made an icon in its own right. Instead, “Foxhunting and the Ban” has been included in the latest release of icons.

Launched in January, the Portrait of England Icons collection aims to provide a snapshot of modern life and to help the public explore, enjoy and celebrate England’s cultural treasures (www.icons.co.uk). Foxhunting attracted 35,000 votes, with 24,000 (69%) in favour of it becoming an Icon of England.  

But before making it an official icon, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) changed the title to “Foxhunting and the Ban”, to show that it was not taking sides.

“The new title reflects that fact that hunting is a very contentious issue — we want to paint a portrait of the country and are not taking sides,” explained Jerry Doyle, managing director of Icons. “Nowadays foxhunting and the ban are inextricably linked in the popular imagination.”

Interestingly the Icons’ foxhunting figures reflect the ban’s dwindling support. The most recent Mori poll (November 2005) showed that support for a ban on hunting had fallen dramatically, from 63% to 45%, since 1999.

The decision to change the icon to include the ban has provoked ridicule from organizations such as the Countryside Alliance (CA).

“Foxhunting was nominated as an icon — the ban was not mdash; and while laughable, it is extremely concerning that the DCMS suggests that thugs in balaclavas fighting with the police is an icon of Englishness,” said CA Deputy Chief Executive John Gardiner. “The DCMS has succumbed to political pressure, and in doing so, is promoting precisely the sort of animal rights extremism that the rest of the country is at pains to avoid”.

But the DCMS say it is certain that it has made a fair decision. “We have expanded it out and made the whole thing truly reflective,” said Ms Doyle. “In England, whenever images of horses and hounds gathering on village greens come to mind, so too, inevitably do images of hunt saboteurs and scuffles with the police.”

The announcement comes just hours before the deadline for the DCMS to respond to a Freedom of Information request from the Countryside Alliance on the subject. “There has never been a picture of a hunt saboteur on a beer mat, and there never will be,” said Mr Gardiner.

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