London witnessed the strength of feeling in the countryside this week, when protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the government’s Hunting Bill, which received its second hearing in the House of Commons on Wednesday 20 December.
Crowds far in excess of the 3,000 expected by the Countryside Alliance gathered in Trafalgar Square, accompanied by sporting dogs of every type, hunt horses and youngsters from toddlers to teenagers whose futures will be affected most by the bill.
Protesters came from far and wide: huntsmen from Cheshire and Exmoor, lurcher and terrier men from Essex and followers of the mink hounds from Norfolk.
Marchers wore placards around their necks to indentify their occupations ¨ they varied from ex-miners and caterers to farmers and vets.
The Hunting Bill offers three options for MPs to vote on, one of which would be to completely ban hunting with dogs, which would affect terrier work, lurchers and coursing dogs, as well as hounds and could criminalise ordinary countrymen out walking their dogs, should those dogs get away and chase a rabbit or fox.
Thus the dogs and their handlers headed the march, alongside the Union of Country Sports Workers whose members will lose their jobs and even their homes if hunting is banned.
The march continued from Trafalgar Square along Whitehall to Parliament Square, where the protesters gathered outside the Houses of Parliament, where the bill was being debated.
To the few MPs who ventured outside, there can have been no doubt that the countryside will not lie down and simply accept a ban.
In accordance with the pleas of the Alliance, the march and gatherings at either end were accomplished peacefully and politely, although the large crowd blocked the access to Parliament Square to the extent that the police had to close the road.
It was a day which will remind London of what is to come on 18 March 2001.