Hunting the truth

Townies who would end fox-hunting need to examine their motives, suggests Jojo Moyes. Would the fox really benefit if this traditional country sport were illegal?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
An Islington-born vegetarian who switches off nature programmes if animals start eating each other is an unlikely candidate to defend fox-hunting. But unlike the vast majority of people who pass judgement, I have one outstanding credential: I have actually done it. And as the anti-hunting lobby again scents victory with the prospect of a Labour government, and existing hunts dwindle through political correctness and fear of saboteurs, I suggest the lobby is misguided.

It is easy to attack hunting: it makes explicit many of the things we prefer to protect ourselves from - the killing of animals, brutality and blood - all in the name of sport. It is even easier to attack the hunting fraternity; images of posh, pink-coated Sir Bufton Tufton types swigging from stirrup cups and foaming at the mouth fuel the impression of an unspeakable upper class in pursuit of the uneatable.

Hunting is complex and fiercely emotive - and is most attacked by those least likely to be affected by it.

For years, I was shipped out of north London and off to the Southern Irish Wexford Hounds, of which my step-grandfather was once master. The whole community, from fat farmers to scruffy children on Shetland ponies, united to indulge in the closest thing I, as a townie, have ever seen to community spirit.

As a rather timid urban child, I found hunting gave me bravery; in the adrenalin rush of a moving field, children achieve feats that surprise themselves, as well as courtesy (hunting etiquette is the most stringent of any sport) and a love of the outdoors. People who go hunting have a healthier respect for animals than most of my urban neighbours. In our house, you got no supper until your horse was put to bed. Hurting a hound, even accidentally, was the greatest of sins.

The argument that foxes need culling is too well known for me to repeat. But in most hunts you don't even see one. Hunting is a means in itself as well as the means to a end. Dare I say it, hunting is fun.

And this is what animates the anti-hunting lobby most - that people who hunt are honest about the fact that they enjoy it. Plus, as small groups of people who congregate publicly, they are easy targets for protest. Far less easy to address is the more widespread way in which we abuse animals bred for killing. Dead foxes look unpleasant? So do slaughterhouses, and so we choose to look the other way. Our meat products are carefully constructed so as to give no hint that they were once parts of living, breathing animals. The only difference is that they are bred for slaughter - and that apparently makes it OK.

After the BSE crisis some farmers admitted that they couldn't afford to feed their affected cattle, and that many were bellowing with hunger. Yet do you see organised protests in support of starving cattle? No, people sit at home eating hamburgers and, when pictures of huntsmen appear on television, condemn them roundly through mouthfuls of gristle.

Personally, I would rather take my chances as a fox than be a battery chicken, dosed up with antibiotics in a wire cage too small for me to turn round in. Simply banning fox-hunting for its cruelty is hypocritical and confused.

And after hunting is banned, and the last hounds and hunters destroyed, what should we consider next? A hunting ban would not lead to foxes being reprieved; farmers would simply resort to crueller, legal methods of killing, such as happens in other parts of Europe, where they have been shot and snared almost to extinction.

As a town dweller, I see how easy it is for us to be judgemental about country folk. We keep our dogs in tiny flats, feel guilty when our children forget to feed unwanted hamsters, and then sign annual cheques for membership of the RSPCA.

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