Army hunt finds perfect killing ground

Danny Penman follows officers of the Royal Artillery as they enjoy a da y riding to hounds across Salisbury Plain
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The Independent Online
It was a perfect day for fox-hunting and Britain's armed forces were hard at work honing their fighting skills. The ground was warm and the air cold. The fox scent was rising and being trapped by the cold air, making it easy to follow.

The Royal Artillery Hunt, based in Larkhill barracks, on Salisbury Plain, was meeting on Ministry of Defence property guarded by Military Police.

There were no anti-hunt protesters. A meeting on Ministry of Defence property ensures that protesters who stray would be removed swiftly by the Military Police.

As the Independent reported earlier this month, officers are permitted to hunt during the Wednesday compulsory sports afternoon because, according to the ministry, hunting "promotes physical fitness and good tactical ground appreciation, both of which are of great value in military training".

Others disagree. Jim Barrington, who is director of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "I do not think the Falklands campaign or the Gulf war were dependent on our horsemanship."

The Royal Artillery Hunt is one of seven that are based on MoD property. The ministry, and the hunts concerned, maintain that there are no hidden subsidies to hunting available through the military budget.

But the League maintains - from research that it has carried out into written Parliamentary questions - that more than £40,000 alone was spent during the 1992-93 hunting season on "subsidising" the Household Cavalry.

The Royal Artillery huntmaster, Major Jonathon Seed, claims that the hunt raise all its money by private subscriptions and by staging fund-raising events.

The first "drawing" of the day was in the woods along the Avon River valley near the vilWiltshire villages of Fifield and Coombe, north of Amesbury. The first fox escaped by running through the village of Fittleton, closely followed by about 30 hounds.

Another fox was chased for two miles before "going to earth". The fox was dug out 15 minutes later and shot.

The practice in most hunts is for a fox to be tossed to the hounds and torn up.

During the afternoon the hunt chased several other foxes. One went to earth and the hounds were pulled back 50 yards to give the fox a "sporting chance" while it was dug out.

The fox subsequently bolted closely followed by the hounds. That fox escaped but another did not.

Two foxes were killed on Salisbury Plain and the Royal Artillery returned to barracks having improved its tactical ground appreciation.