Andrew Sallis: Hunting is more popular than ever *H&H VIP*

Opinion

The summer season marches on relentlessly towards the inevitable start of hunting. Masters and hunt staff yearn for the consistency of the hunting week as the torrent of puppy shows, hound shows, parades and events draw to a close.

Last season was without doubt the most challenging for hunts nationwide. Increased attention from saboteurs employing an increasing array of tactics, pushing criminal and civil law to the limits, made it tough for some hunts to operate. But not one hunt has recoiled — quite the opposite.

The prominence of these extremists is largely due to the neutering of the League Against Cruel Sports and RSPCA. Internal civil wars and bad press have rendered our established opponents weak, but this has created space for the more extreme elements, giving them oxygen to prosper and propagate.

Clever and relentless use of social media certainly gives the impression there are far more saboteurs than actually do run across our fields. Mock army-style videos are designed to impress some but intimidate others — there is no doubt that as many hunting people look at these sites as antis.

But these aren’t all the rent-a-mob sabs of old. They are increasingly organised, technologically armed, legally astute and fit; more verbal and “gobby”, too, trained in baiting hunt supporters and quickly manipulating or staging situations to their advantage.

Not so long ago these motly groups posed more of an irritation and public order threat rather than any serious chance of gaining evidence, often with disingenuous doctoring, of so-called illegal hunting. The wind has changed. Courts seem increasingly willing to accept testimony and evidence from dubious individuals whose raison d’etre is to dismantle and rage against the very establishment that they are using to destroy it.

We need to be savvy

This all presents a darkening picture, but it is worth remembering that only a minority of hunts experience problems from a sab base spread thinly across the country. Notwithstanding the numbers, the trend needs to be halted. Hunts need to be more savvy and prepared. They must rise up from behind the curve, communicate and learn from one another while taking heed of central advice.

Society will eventually wake up to the horrors of fake news and trial by social media — its bubble will burst, hopefully enforced with improved regulatory legislation.

In the meantime, we resist any retreat to a clandestine position. Media may have a subconscious influence but empirical experience is still our best form of promotion — from thanking every car you encounter out hunting to meets in public places; taking the hounds to events to raising money for local causes; speaking about hunting to challenging prejudice. The importance of latent grassroot support in the local community should not be underestimated.

The off-season has given hunts the opportunity to regroup and readdress the balance, shoring up relations with local authorities and bodies. For a number of hunts the tide is turning in their favour against their aggressive harassers. A buoyant hound show season demonstrated that hunting is back on form. Our secretary reports that subscriptions are flowing in and everyone is excited for the season ahead.

Hunting has had to evolve over the past two decades; nothing new there — after all, hunting has faced innumerable challenges before and yet it is more popular than ever. “Hark for-ard, they’re running on.”

Ref Horse & Hound; 8 August 2019