John Holliday: Can two sports co-exist? [H&H VIP]

  • The New Year has brought with it a change in the weather. Some days have already been lost and heavy snow is forecast.

    It brings to mind former Belvoir huntsman Frank Gillard’s reply when asked what he’d do differently if he had his time again:

    “Put more days in before Christmas, as the frost upon the plough causes so many to be lost thereafter,” was his sage reply.

    Days can be lost for many reasons — snow, frost, fog are the ones nature dispenses. But one thing I’ve learnt is that the conditions are either fit or they are not. The only grey area is whether or not you decide to go out regardless.

    Modern farming methods mean that for most areas, hunting no longer continues into April, as it used to some 50 years ago. But in arable areas, I can see no reason why it should not. It would give some hunts a few more days to enjoy the unrestricted access afforded once the shooting season finishes at the end of January.

    Can the two sports co-exist?

    Hunting requires a large area in which to operate, but it is a sad fact of contemporary hunting that its curtailment in many areas is due to the constraints of game shooting. It is a sensitive subject, I know, but much has changed since the imposition of the Hunting Act 10 years ago.

    One change involves the rise in smaller syndicated shoots to the extent that hardly any areas of land are not shot over. The second concerns the rise in the cost of running a shoot, meaning their keepers are nervous of losing birds through any disturbance.

    The change in the law has caused an upset in the natural balance of the countryside, but not only in the way that was predicted — that is, the repercussions for the quarry. But we are now in a position where young men running smaller syndicate shoots seem unable to understand the problem. I suspect because they have no experience or memory of life before the Hunting Act.

    Many do not follow hounds as their fathers probably did and consequently, they do not feel the obligations to their friends and neighbours that came naturally to their forebears.

    Fighting for the same side

    At the Belvoir (pictured), we are exceptionally lucky. The large estates such as Aswarby in Lincolnshire, and Belvoir and Buckminster in Leicestershire, all stand out as shining examples of top quality shoots that accommodate hounds throughout the year.

    In our Vale, every field is covered by an organised shoot — 20 years ago, there were none.

    All of them allow the hunt unrestricted access, for no other reason than common courtesy and a healthy respect for their fellow man, for which we are genuinely indebted.

    We have other areas that prove more difficult to make arrangements for. The only thing that helps keep the ship on course is the fact that we have an exceptionally large “country”.

    It is sad to relate that even well-organised and established hunts have to cancel days because they have nowhere to go. It is ironic that one of the greatest difficulties in running a hunt in 2015 has not been as a direct consequence of the Hunting Act, but an indirect one.

    We, the men and women of the sporting countryside, are of one family. As in all families there are inevitable tensions, but come the revolution, we will all surely fight on the same side!

    In a shrinking countryside, hunts need to put maximum effort into arranging meets around shoot dates, in cases where hunt countries have further pressure from roads and urbanisation. Amalgamations should be given serious consideration.

    For their part, shoots can with luck understand the value of hunting to the wider community and show some altruism toward their fellow sportsman. Thenceforth, halcyon days shall return, peace and serenity can reign. Good hunting or good shooting — and preferably both.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 February 2015