Farmers across England and Wales have pledged support to enable the sport, in its “mock” form, to continue from 18 February.
Initial fears that subsidies could be cut if farmers inadvertently allow an illegal activity on their land are “misplaced”, according to one expert. Hunts anticipate that written agreements with landowners confirming intention to stay within the law will eliminate the risk of landowners’ prosecutions.
The most frequent inquiry to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has been about the Single Farm Payment (SFP) being jeopardised.
The CLA’s lawyer, Christopher Price, says: “This concern is entirely misplaced. There’s no danger of losing the SFP over hunting. Farmers get it if they meet cross-compliance conditions set by the EU and DEFRA. They include agricultural and environmental rules on matters such as soil, protection and setaside.
“The offence for landowners under the Act is if a landowner ‘knowingly permits’ hunting. Whether this will be interpreted as ‘expressly authorises’ or ‘fails to take steps to prevent’, we don’t know.”
Farmers Horse & Hound contacted were keen to welcome the hunt — as long as it continued fallen stock and some pest control services.
Peter Davidson-Smith, who farms in Gloucestershire, says: “We have the North Cotswold and the Heythrop here. They are under a strict leadership and obey the rules of the countryside. They cause minimal damage and provide me with two services — taking fallen stock and controlling foxes.
“If an organised group still provides this, I’ll allow them across. If the services disappear, I’ll have concerns. I don’t hunt, but it’s a part of the countryside we lose at our peril.”
Jim Webster, a non-hunting cattle and sheep farmer in Cumbria, says: “If somebody wants to exercise dogs or horses across our land, no problem. In winter, we’re busy feeding stock inside. I won’t go to parts of the farm for months. Having the hunt helps keep an eye on it — responsible people who know the countryside will tell me if a fence is iffy or a dyke is blocked.”