John Hall, chairman: “We’ve been inundated with people coming out with us. One chap flew over from New Zealand to hunt on Dartmoor. He hired a different horse each day, went out with us, the Mid Devon and the South Devon and then flew home.
“On 19 February, we’re holding a joint-meet on the moor with the Spooners and West and the Mid Devon. We’ll take hounds but won’t do anything more than ride over the moor.
“Our season normally finishes the first or second week in April, and we intend to hunt the same days — Tuesdays and Saturdays — until then. We’ll be following a fox-based scent, although we haven’t practised yet. The rights on the moor mean we can ride over it and our landowners are behind us. Nothing will change in terms of staff or hounds. We have enough money for six months.”
Lord Davies MFH. “On 19 February, we’re meeting at the kennels, mounted. We don’t intend to break the law; we’ll be hunting with two hounds and a gun. Our season usually finishes within a couple of weeks of this, so we hope to continue, but it’s not clear whether we will — it depends on how it goes and on lambing.
“No new agreements have been made with landowners yet — they’ll be hunting on my land and we’ve spoken to few farmers about 19 February. We won’t make any changes to staff and hounds until the legal and political situation becomes clear.”
Dr John Mitchell, chairman. “On 19 February, we’re going to meet at kennels and hunt a trail. We haven’t practised yet; we’re waiting to hear how to do it from the MFHA. We’re going to try to keep going until the first week in April, but only once a week — probably Saturday, with maybe some Tuesdays. We’re trying to persuade the MFHA that hunt days should be fixed to spread the police as thinly as possible.
“We haven’t got new agreements sorted with landowners yet, but we will soon. They’ve all been supportive and some are disappointed that we’re not going to carry on illegally. Staff and hounds are going to carry on as normal next year; we’ve identified some cost savings, but we’re not a rich hunt.”
Maurice Mortimore, chairman: “We’re having a joint meet on the moor with the other Dartmoor packs, where we’ll be hunting a trail. We normally finish in April, so we’ll hunt a trail this season, probably on Saturdays. There will be no more Tuesday meets; we’ll probably do fox service then.
“We’re drawing up an agreement with the commoners on the moor [with the rest of the Dartmoor-based packs] who are our most pertinent landowners. I think we’ll wait and see with the rest of our landowners what happens during the summer. I don’t think things will change regarding staff and hounds — but it’s all open to review.”
Raymond Burrough, chairman: “On 19 February, we hope to organise a meet at Sidmouth on the seafront. We’ve never met there before, but we hope it will bring good publicity. We’ll do some form of trail hunting afterwards, although we haven’t practised. Between then and the season’s end on 1 April, we hope to go out, but what days, where and how often aren’t yet decided. We want to see what other packs are doing.
“We’ve written to our landowners; one has said no and some are worried about their CAP, but most will be OK. In terms of staff and hounds, we’re going to carry on as we always have done — we’re a big knacker country, someone’s got to do it and it brings in the money. I’m optimistic.”
Ian Pearce, master: “On the 19th we’re meeting at Powderham Castle, home of Lord and Lady Devon, and then we’ll go trail hunting on the estate. We’ll practise before then, but I’m dreading it.
“Our season finishes in the last week of April — we hunt for 130 days per year. We’re going to provide a call-out fox control service — the majority of our country is Dartmoor National Park and hounds are about the only safe form of fox control.
“We’ll also do at least three days per fortnight for the subscribers, who will accompany fox control days by invitation. We may finish earlier because of the ground-nesting birds on Dartmoor. Previously, we had a purpose to be on the moor, but now we’re not hunting — we’re like everyone else walking a dog.
“We’re not breeding hounds this year and my kennel-huntsman is moving to the Cheshire Forest, so I probably won’t replace him, but we don’t know what’s happening [with staff].
“We will form new agreements with landowners, but haven’t yet — those who let us on their land now are behind us, and we’ve been overwhelmed by support for the fallen stock scheme.” [The South Devon has joined the government scheme, and disposes of but doesn’t collect stock.]
Major Hanbury, joint-master: “On 19 February we’re meeting at Grey’s Bridge Meadow just outside Dorchester. We’ll be speaking and then I’m not sure what we’re doing for the rest of the day. Whatever we do will be within the law, but we mustn’t make a nonsense of it. We haven’t practised any trailing yet. One of the difficulties of trying to teach old, well-trained dogs a new trick is that hounds have been trained to ignore everything else but the scent of a live fox. But the hunt hasn’t made a specific decision.
“We normally hunt five days a fortnight until April; we’ll continue to go out twice a week until 10 March and will make a decision then about whether we’ll continue. Our landowners have split into two groups; some are happy to have us if we’re acting legally, others are wondering if they want to have us if we’re not going to catch foxes.
“We will breed hounds, but not so many, and have told hunt staff that their contracts will continue until 30 April. In South Dorset we have three key constituencies [with marginal seats] and we’re already planning how we can ensure we get the right MPs. At least by campaigning we’re doing something positive.”
John Billingsley, president: “On 19 February we’ll meet as usual, probably at Winsford, on Exmoor, and see what happens. We’re deciding next week. I think we should try to carry on as usual — we all need to stick together. We will operate within the law as near as possible, but it’s going to be hard because the hounds are at their peak.
“We normally finish the season on 18 March, and we’ll carry on in some form or other until then. We’ve spoken to several landowners — being a farmers’ hunt helps. Although they’re supportive they are worried with all this talk of subsidies. There will be no change to staff or hound breeding as far as I can forsee.”
John Pugsley, chairman: “On 19 February we’re meeting at Lanacre Bridge, one of Exmoor’s best-known beauty spots, then we’ll go for a seven- or eight-mile ride to look at the beautiful scenery, ending up at a farm for refreshments. We’d normally finish at the end of March, so we shall tread water until then, and then make plans for next season. Hopefully, the ban will be overturned, if not we’ll make contingency plans.
“We’ll still do something on Fridays — we’re a densely sheep-populated area so we’ll go out with two hounds and flush to guns to provide our farmers with a service. And we’ll also provide something to our subscribers — but we don’t want to spoil our good hounds [by hunting a trail].
“We’re in the process of drawing up new agreements with landowners. Some farmers have actually contacted us to do so, and all are behind us. Staff and hound breeding will stay the same and a new joint-master is joining us for next season.”
Mark Shotton, acting master: “On the 19th, we’ll hunt within the law. We’ve already bred some hounds for trail hunting — half Bloodhounds, half Foxhounds — and we’ll be using them.
“I’ve held back from approaching farmers because they’re not keen at all. They’re that chewed with all the problems of rights of way that the last thing they want is a gang of riders having a gallop and a jolly over their land. I’m a farmer too and I wouldn’t want it — you wouldn’t open your garden up to Joe Bloggs, would you?
“I’ve approached Tony Blair’s agent to suggest that the government puts a little extra in farmers’ payments if they allow the hunt across their land. They’d all be for us then. It’s all right on big private estates, but we’re arable farmers around here, so we don’t do stock collection. The farmers were OK with traditional foxhunting, but they’ve got their backs up against the wall now.
“We’re keeping the hounds on until after the election — that’s what the majority of people want — and we are breeding more Bloodhounds. We’re keeping the huntsman on — all the whippers-in have their own farms. We usually finish the end of February and will meet every Saturday after the 19 February until then.
“We had a trial run for post-ban hunting — it was a foggy, wet day, we had a hack out round a few farms and over a few jumps, then came home — but everybody was sick as a parrot.”
David Thomas, master and huntsman: “We’re meeting on the Ysfor Estate on 19 February and are going to try to carry on as normal. I’ve told all the local farmers that I’m going to carry on and they’ve said we should stick together.
“I’ve come this far — these hounds have been bred for hundreds of years — and I’m not giving up. The foxes are hard to find here, you have to have an athletic hound. It’s big sheep country and farmers lose a lot of lambs. The only way to catch a fox is with hounds.”
Graham Bridgeman, chairman: “On the 19th, we meet at the Fox and Hounds in Eggesford — our Boxing Day meet. Afterwards, we might go for a ride. Trail hunting would spoil hounds — and anyway, that’s playing into their hands. It’s not the police we’ve got to watch, it’s the antis with their video cameras.
“We’re mostly farmers and we can’t believe there will be no more hunting. Our farmers have all been brilliant, but we’ve got a lot of Forestry Commission land, particularly around Eggesford, which we’ll not be allowed to hunt. We haven’t approached them yet because we can’t make a decision about what we’re going to do after 19 February. We’re having a meeting next week, though. We usually hunt until 1 April. We’re keeping the huntsman on and breeding hounds as normal.”
ESKDALE AND ENNERDALE
Will Rawling, chairman: “We’re in a very difficult position — we’re a foot pack in the Lake District, which is 95% National Trust (NT) or Forestry Commission (FC), and we’ve had our licence rescinded. What privately owned land we do have is a small island totally surrounded by NT.
“We’re meeting on 17 and 19 February, but what we do afterwards could be very difficult. We’re meeting at kennels, but if we step foot outside we’re into NT land. We haven’t had notification from the NT yet but we understand it will take a dim view of it.
“If we do put a fox up, hounds can quickly be three valleys away — it puts the master/huntsman in a very difficult position. However, they probably won’t stop us exercising hounds.”
Michael le Quesne Herbert, chairman: “On 19 February we’re meeting at High Easter, our point-to-point course, and will go on a trail hunt. We’ve invited all our landowners, farmers, supporters and subscribers to drinks that day because we’ll have marquees up from a point-to-point the previous week.
“We usually finish at the end of March, hunting five days a fortnight, but we might cut that down to once a week. We’ve written to landowners telling them we’re going to carry on with legal activities and indications are that they are supportive.
“We’re going to keep on the same staff, certainly for the next season. We’ve decided we must keep going for the next year — even if we go into a financial deficit — because we have the assets to cope.
“Frankly, we have to get rid of some hounds — 38 couple is just too many to go trail hunting once a week. It’s difficult to know whether to use existing hounds or breed new ones for trail hunting.”
ESSEX FARMERS AND UNION
Henry Cowell, chairman: “On 19 February, we’re meeting at the home of our senior master, Douglas Hill, at Patten Farm. We had our AGM last week at which he assured members that we would meet as usual and would have as much fun as possible but without breaking the law. And then we will have a massive rethink at the end of the season. Our landowners have been approached and are happy to help.”
Cheryl Claydon, joint-master: “We’ve invited all our landowners, members, farmers and subscribers on 19 February, and we’re going to go on hound exercise afterwards. We’ll do this once a week until the end of March.
“We haven’t set up new agreements with landowners yet because we’ll be sticking to tracks and bridleways. But our plan is to carry on, see what the summer brings and probably try trailhunting next season.
“We have a couple of bitches in whelp; we want to keep the infrastructure going so we can have a puppy show and continue the summer events.”
ESSEX & SUFFOLK
James Buckle, senior master: “We’re meeting on 19 February at Snetton Hall, and we’ll be having a hound ride. We are also going to try some trailhunting. The National Trust is fine about us on its land, although it didn’t want us on 19 February, as it felt that would be making a political statement, which it is not allowed to do. We have laid a groom off, but aim to keep everyone else if we possibly can. It all depends on how many subscriptions come in next season.”
Richard Peek, chairman: “We’ll continue to meet after 18 February, although dates have not been finalised. We’re not intending to break the law. You just cannot ask paid staff to go out and break the law.
“Our plans involve hound exercise and laying some form of artificial scent. We’ve sent out agreements to our landowners saying that we can no longer hunt in the same manner but that hunting in some form is to continue. So far, 60 have been returned signed. We also have the support of Exmoor National Park for any form of ‘legal’ hunting.
“On 19 February we’ll meet as usual and do something, probably hound exercise. Our staff will remain the same; their contracts run until 1 May, when our season will end. It’s difficult to plan until you know what will happen, but if we have good support — and there’s no question of that — we can continue.”
George Atkinson, master: “I’ve only compiled the meet card up to 19 February. We haven’t yet had a meeting to discuss what to do after that. On the 19th we’re having a joint meet with the Sinnington and the Ampleforth Beagles at the house of our former chairman, Lady Clarissa Collin — Wytherstone House at Pockley. This will be the first time the Beagles have joined us for a meet, although we meet with the Sinnington twice per season.”
Jo Cowen, senior master: “We have two days a week at the moment and will continue to do so after the ban until our season ends mid-March. We’ve not yet made formal plans, but we’ll still call our activity ‘hunting’ and we’ll be doing some exercising of hounds and following a trail.
“We’ve been keeping landowners up to date with the new situation. We’ll meet at the kennels on 19 February, though our precise plans aren’t finalised.”
FLINT & DENBIGH
Rikki Proffitt, joint-master: “We’ll be out hunting within the law. We’re having a large meet at Coed Coch, home of Mrs Fetherstonhaugh, my fellow joint-master, on 19 February and will take part in some hound exercise. We will hopefully draw cover using two hounds at the request of our farming community. We’ll also be trying out trailhunting in the summer months. We won’t be cutting back on staff; in fact we are desperately seeking a whipper-in to replace ours, who is going to the Badsworth & Bramham Moor at the end of the season.”