Hunt supporters threaten a horsebox gridlock

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The Independent Online
Foxhunting supporters, emboldened by the display of solidarity at last week's 100,000-strong rally in Hyde Park against a ban on the sport, have raised the spectre of a mass civil disobedience campaign if the Government goes ahead with an anti-hunting bill.

Invoking the spirit of French lorry drivers and farmers, some hunt masters have said hunt followers may block roads or cause chaos by driving tractors and horseboxes through cities and towns across Britain.

Trevor Adams, full-time joint master of the Buccleuch hunt, based on the Scottish Borders, said: "A campaign of civil disobedience would be a shame, but if the Government is hell-bent on turning us into criminals there might be a stronger campaign.

"I suspect if everyone took their horseboxes to London we could cause an awful lot of chaos without breaking the law - 50,000 horseboxes would cause quite a bit of congestion."

Robin Knight, of the Old Berkeley Beagles, a hare hunt in Buckinghamshire, said the hunt lobby could follow the lead of French agricultural disputes. "French farmers and fishermen have good ways of being inconvenient without being violent - such as driving tractors round ring-roads to hold up traffic."

French food producers and freight transporters have developed fearsome - and usually successful - tactics for direct action: fishermen and truckers have tied up ports for days on end and farmers have blockaded roads and never fought shy of dumping huge loads of produce outside town halls.

Mr Knight added: "We've hidden our heads in the sand too long. You saw the depth of feeling among people from Wales, Scotland and Cornwall who were prepared to walk to London. They are really fired up."

There are indications that the Government, taken aback by the sheer scale of last week's rally, is willing to listen to hunt supporters. It remains unclear whether, in a busy parliamentary session, an anti-foxhunting bill would have enough time to become law.

Despite the good behaviour of the crowd at Hyde Park, a number of speakers hinted at more aggressive action. Huntsman David Jones said: "This is the last peaceful march and the last peaceful rally."

Columnist Auberon Waugh said farmers and land owners could poison water supplies and withdraw co-operation with the National Trust. Mr Adams said: "The Trust relies on co-operation of farmers: if that is withdrawn it would make life difficult for a lot of people."

Countryside groups feel their campaign has been greatly invigorated by Hyde Park. "In the countryside you often think you are the only one who feels the way you do," said Mr Adams "but the rally has made everyone realise we are a pretty big union."

Sam Butler, estate agent and organiser of the Countryside Marchers who co-staged the rally, said: "I hope to God we don't get a campaign of civil disobedience. But the people who went to the rally aren't going to go home and think that's the end of the matter. They would have woken up on Friday thinking completely differently. Country people are angry. There is now a dangerous rift between the rural countryside and urban areas."

Stephen Taylor, joint master of the Belvoir hunt, in Leicestershire, said: "There were people at the rally who want to take more drastic action. French farmers cut the whole country up all the time. If our peaceful protest doesn't work then there may be moves to inconvenience people."

But Jeremy Edwardes of the British Field Sports Society said: "We would not endorse civil disobedience. We do not back any kind of action such as blocking lanes and would never support poisoning water supplies."

The BFSS has called for rallies in towns across the country. "We must keep the momentum going," said Mr Edwardes. "We must educate the urban majority and show them the countryside is not just a dormitory for their recreation." The BFSS and the Countryside Alliance will also intensify lobbying of Labour MPs and local government.

But Mr Adams warned: "If a law were passed it would not be accepted. We would not lie down and disappear. It would be the start of a very big headache for the Government which would not go away."