Frank Houghton Brown: It’s time for change *H&H VIP*

Opinion

Tim Easby and Lizzie Pinney, directors of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) and Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB) respectively, are both leaving their positions at the Hunting Office after stints of 10 and 12 years.

They have been exceptionally diligent and hard-working officials, but MFHA chairman Lord Mancroft reminded me that “the Hunting Office is purely administrative. There are more and more demands on it, with less and less funding.

“We organise nine training days a year and a multitude of regional meetings. Every hunt is visited every three years and there are many follow-ups. We deal with the complexities of internal hunt politics, hunt amalgamations and the hound studbooks.

“We have a proper disciplinary procedure with an appeals process, and all huntsmen will have to be vetted by a panel of experts before they can take up a position. Our emphasis nowadays is on training and support. We do not provide hunting’s PR.”

It is positive PR that hunting needs — and help tackling the problem of saboteurs and the deluge of lies and distortion with which they swamp social media. We currently rely on the Countryside Alliance for all our PR.

The Alliance’s chief executive Tim Bonner tells me, “We are spending more money directly on hunting now than at any other time since the ban,” and from reading the MFHA “white book” — its directory of hunts and hunting-allied organisations — they have three people working on hunting’s behalf.

That may be the case, but from where I am sitting, hunting is in a bad place and the antis are beating us with their intimidation and lies. A huntsman who has the misfortune to be plagued by antis has to show immense bravery and steadfastness under fire. Are we really doing enough to help them and, if not, how do we do more?

Just telling them to amalgamate with another hunt isn’t the answer. If we are not careful, we simply won’t be able to find masters or huntsmen for those packs that are hit the hardest, and the subscribers who pay the bills won’t enjoy it any longer and will disappear.

Time to harness talents

Remarks from the Countryside Alliance chiefs at recent meetings that hunting has to sort out its “toxicity issues” just don’t help matters, and would appear to be an excuse for sitting on their hands.

Tim Bonner talks of “minimum standards” and a “sustainable future” in exactly the same way as Lord Mancroft, so we all appear to be on the same page. We all know what a diverse community hunting is — there are undoubtedly people out there with ideas and the right experience who can help take the sport forward. This is the time to harness their talents.

Maybe the changing of the guard at the Hunting Office is just the opportunity we need. A prominent master told me that “comms by social media” is what all young people use and is the way forward, but at a recent hunting conference they had a survey by a show of hands and no one used social media.

Hunts are not toxic and we shouldn’t be told we are. We are a force for good. We just need to get our act together and think outside the box. We might just have an opportunity to do that now.

Ref Horse & Hound; 27 June 2019