The Countryside Alliance has named Simon Hart, director of the Campaign for Hunting, as the successor to current chief executive Richard Burge, who steps down in 2004.

“My appointment is not a change of direction – it is part and parcel of the development of an extended role for the alliance. I have a passionate interest in the countryside and in agriculture as a whole – and a history in land management,” says Simon as he prepares to take the hot seat.

Simon, 39, spent 16 years working as a chartered surveyor specialising in agriculture and land management for Knight Frank and other firms before he joined the alliance in 1999.

His late father, Anthony, was master of the Cotswold Vale Farmers hunt and secretary of the Masters of Foxhounds Association while Simon himself was master of the South Pembrokeshire for 10 seasons and maintains a keen interest in other country sports.

Simon has been a comforting presence to the troops fighting hunting’s corner — from the early protests to the challenge of encouraging farmers to welcome hunts after FMD and, more recently, when the government asked those very people it threatens to put out of work to help with collecting fallen stock.

He plans to work closely with Richard Burge during next 12 months, to ensure the handover is as smooth as possible: “I have always been up to date with the full range of the alliance’s activities. Rural issues overlap much more than people think, so what I have done in the past has been an excellent preparation for my future role.”

On the present threat to hunting, Simon believes that there is still work to do. “We are confident that we can still win this battle, but there will always be threats to hunting, be they legislative or not, so we have to be prepared to mount a vigorous defence whenever necessary.”

Aside from hunting, his aspirations centre on developing the alliance as the foremost pressure group on rural issues, a mission shared by chairman John Jackson, who says: “What the hunting debate has shown is that the countryside is under threat from politicians who have no understanding of it. Shooting and fishing in particular have become targets, and the rural way of life as a whole is in danger if we don’t stand up for ourselves.”

While Simonmay have piles of paperwork on his desk this time next year, hunting supporters can feel a little easier at the thought that when our sport comes under threat, the man at the top is fully equipped to fight its corner.

Read the full news report in this week’s Horse & Hound (22 May), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week.