Hunts aim to ditch red coats in peace gesture

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WITH THE right to hunt with hounds under threat, the traditional red coats worn by hunt members are also in danger, because they anger anti-hunt protesters.

According to Lord Daresbury, the chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, the coat is deemed to have an "elitist" connotation that inflames the anti-hunt lobby. The time may have come, he believes, to replace the coats - a symbol of the country pursuit worn with pride for centuries - with "warm tweed jackets".

The peer, who is chief executive of the brewery group Greenalls, chairman of Aintree racecourse and a former National Hunt amateur jockey, is striving to move the debate on hunting away from polarised positions. The hunt lobby must, he says "go into the hearts and minds of the people".

He said in an interview: "I think it's a tradition that is seen to be linked to the military use of uniform. It suggests hierarchy and it is uncomfortable to some people. Warm tweed jackets would not make a lot of difference. Perception is important, and if research shows that people are antagonised because of red coats then we should think about changing that. I still think, however, that the field master, the huntsman and [the] whipper-in should continue to wear them so they can be recognised."

Dropping the coat is no excuse for sloppiness, the 46-year-old peer, who is a friend of the Prince of Wales, said. He did not want to see riders turn up in jumpers and tracksuits."People want to be smart and that has been an important part of the hunt's discipline. It shows it is not a shambolic outfit but that it is professionally organised and has rules."

In an attempt to sway public opinion Lord Daresbury, who lives near Warrington, has invited Mike Hall, the local Labour MP, and John Garside, the Labour leader of Warrington Council, to spend a few days riding with the Wynnstay Hunt, in the Welsh marches.