A team of conservationists and hunting aficionados has taken over the Marlborough College Beagles just when the curtain looked set to draw on the fifty-three-year-old pack.
The Marlborough College Beagles had been founded by two Marlborough College students in 1952 and was one of only four school packs in the Britain. Until earlier this year, it was open to any pupil willing to join and was considered an excellent training ground for future masters of foxhounds.
Two years ago, the Beagles hit the spotlight after the League Anti-Cruel Sports said the college wanted to hide its involvement in country sports because it did not mention the pack in its prospectus and website. The school firmly rebutted the allegation and reiterated its commitment to beagling.
The hunting ban, however, cast a shadow over the future of the club, which held its last meet on Thursday 17 February, just hours before the ban came into force. The college eventually decided to disband the pack and was looking for new homes for the beagles when a group of local supporters came to the rescue.
Racehorse re-trainer Andrew Bozdan, his wife Rosemary, Countryside Alliance Board Member Caroline Tisdall and her partner Paul Van Vlissingen formed a new mastership to take charge of the former Marlborough College Beagles.
“I met with [former Marlborough College huntsman] Ozzie Osman and he told me that they were trying to find new homes for 15 couples or so, and asked me if I could take one or two. He was not having any joy [in finding homes for the beagles] and their future looked quite bleak,” says Bozdan. “I asked him to hold fire because I had an idea but needed it to speak to a few people.”
Bozdan, who used to hunt with the Surrey and North Sussex and still walks puppies for them, discussed taking over the pack with Tisdall and Van Vlissingen, who are both passionate about conservation. “It was not a cheap option and initially we would need to rely on them to support it financially. I did all the costing, they thought about it very carefully and, to our delight and surprise, they said yes,” he says.
A frenzy of activity ensued. Discussions with officials from the former pack — all very pleased, according to Bozdan — were followed by construction work to build the kennels, which is taking place right now.
Bozdan, who will be the new master and huntsman, then plans to “go around the country and see people” to make sure the pack is still welcome across former Marlborough College Beagles country, but he says that he has already received plenty of positive feedback. “Landowners and farmers have been incredibly supportive. It gives us a lift to know they are behind us.”
Marlborough College students will also be able to remain involved in beagling if they want. “Some of the boys called in and asked us whether they can walk the hounds with us, and of course they are more than welcome. If they want to be involved, they are more than welcome whatever they want to do,” says Bozdan.
The Marlborough and District Beagles, as it will now be known, will start hunting from September and will meet every Tuesday. At first, it will run as a private pack with the financial backing of Tisdall and Van Vlissingen, who have committed to it for three years. However, Bozdan plans to turn it into a subscription pack as quickly as he can. The first step in this direction lies in launching a supporters’ club. “We are looking for people to join,” says Bozdan. “If anyone wants to get in touch and know more, they are welcome.”
He is already planning his work several years ahead. “This year we need to get the pack settled and then we can see how the land lies legally and see what we can do with breeding.”
An enthusiastic chap, he is determined to keep the beagles going because, in his view, there is more at stake than just the pack and the country. Saving the Marlborough Beagles is one of the steps towards saving hunting. “The ban is only a nuisance. We will work around it and hunt within the law,” he says. “We are still not finished. I have been involved in hunting for 30 years and would be lost without it. It’s our own way of life and I don’t intend to let it slip.”
Anyone who would like to get involved or support the pack can reach Bozdan via email at firstname.lastname@example.org