Hunts in the pink as support grows
It is three years since foxhunting with dogs was made illegal by Parliament, but the spirit of the country sport lives on.
The hunts that take place in the countryside around Newark have reported an increase in support since the ban was introduced in February 2005, limiting the hunt to following a scented trail.
The acting secretary of the South Notts Hunt, Mrs Angela Hardstaff, said more people had become interested in foxhunting as a result of the ban.
“The profile of the hunt has been raised,” she said.
“People who have never supported us before have come out because they want to make sure it carries on.”
The hunt takes place on Mondays and Thursdays and up to 60 riders take part, as well as the added support of people following in cars.
Mrs Hardstaff, who has been involved in the hunt for 30 years, said hunting attracted a complete range of ages and walks of life.
Although children are unable to attend the hunts because the meetings are during the week, around 30 youngsters will come to events arranged during the school holidays, such as the New Year’s Day meet.
“I think it is nice to know that such a lot of people still support us and still want us,” said Mrs Hardstaff.
“It is a tradition that has been going for so many years and we want to keep that tradition.”
The South Notts countryside was first hunted in 1677 by the Earl of Lincoln and a pack of hounds was established by John Musters in 1775 at his Annesley Estate.
Mrs Hardstaff said at that time hounds were kept in the stately homes of the hunt masters.
In 1948 the kennels were moved to Epperstone, where they remain today under the care of master huntsman Mr John Dandy (51).
The hunt now operates by following a scented trail laid by two riders.
The riders are given a five-minute head start and the hounds then chase the scent, which is specially bought from the United States and soaked into a sponge attached to one of the rider’s boots.
Mr Dandy said they had to learn quickly to adapt to the new hunting laws, but now, because they no longer hunted foxes, he said there were more people willing to join in the hunt.
“People that were against hunting are now coming out because they enjoy riding across the country.
“It has opened it up to everybody — people that had moral issues with it before no longer have those issues.”
The South Notts’ neighbouring hunt, The Grove and Rufford, has also experienced added support since the ban.
Huntsman Mr Roderick Duncan (46) of Barnby Moor, said one of the reasons why foxhunting had survived was the support of the local farmers who allowed their land to be used by the hunt.
“The farmers have stuck with us,” he said.
“We couldn’t survive without the co-operation of the farming community. We are very grateful for them to allow us to carry on.”
The Grove and Rufford is run by a committee of farmers who find the money through subscriptions to keep the hunt going.
Mr Duncan, who has been the huntsman of the Grove and Rufford since 1989, said the number of members paying subscriptions had remained constant, while the support of those who follow the hunt had increased.
He said everybody seemed quite happy to accept the hunt was there. Until, that is, around 30 anti-hunt protesters turned up at a meeting at Wheatley in November.
“We were absolutely dumbfounded. Nobody could understand what they were protesting about,” said Mr Duncan.
“It highlights the thought that the ban had nothing to do with foxes but people with prejudices against those who ride a horse and dress up.”
Other than the unwanted presence of protesters, Mr Duncan said the main effect of the ban was reducing the distance the hunt rides.
“There is less variation than there used to be, but we try to add to the trail as we go along,” he said.
“The unpredictability of the hunt has gone to a certain extent.”
At the Grove and Rufford a line master is now appointed to lay a scented trail before the hunt goes out.
Mr Duncan said a fox-based scent was laid either by people walking the trail or by a dog dragging a rag. Quad bikes are also used to cover greater distances.
The ban has also had an impact on the most important members of the hunt — the hounds.
“The problem I find is because the hounds don’t get any reward they are not as stable as they were. They were very committed to hunting foxes — it is in their nature to hunt,” said Mr Duncan.
The Grove and Rufford’s hounds can be traced back to the early 1700s through carefully kept written records, making them one of the oldest packs in the country.
The hunt was formed in 1952 from two separate hunts, the Grove dating back to 1807 and the older Rufford hunt, which was formed in 1667.
There are nearly 50 hounds to look after, not to mention the work of constructing and maintaining jumps on farm land and organising events such as point-to-point, making the job of huntsman a full-time role.
Mr Duncan, who will be retiring in May, said hunting had been a way of life for him for the past 30 years.
Encouraged by the increased support, those involved in the historic sport are looking forward to that way of life continuing for many years to come.