Hunting supporters bite back

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The Independent Online
A POWERFUL alliance of wealthy landowners and field sports supporters this week opens a new offensive in the battle to determine the future of fox hunting when Sir David Steel, the former Liberal Democrat leader, hosts the launch of the Countryside Movement (CM).

Backed by Lord Peel and the Duke of Westminster, two of Britain's richest men, its stated aim is to place the spotlight on a broad range of rural interests. But critics claim its true raison d'e^tre is to fight the threat of a hunting ban if Labour win the next election.

A prime financial backer will be the Countryside Business Group (CBG), set up by a City of London-based American lawyer, Eric Bettelheim, to raise millions of pounds for a public relations offensive against "our contemporary enemy, the animal rights brigade".

Many field sports supporters welcome the efforts of Mr Bettelheim, son of child psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, to provide funds and organisation to counter the animal rights lobby.

He writes in this month's The Field magazine: "It will take intensive effort and serious money for years to take country sports off the political agenda."

John Swift, director of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and a CM founder, said: "There are a very large number of people who are fed up that the countryside is being messed about by a largely urban political system. The debate in the last 30 years has been about the problems of towns. But there are some terrible things happening in the country in terms of hardship. Politicians haven't got the background knowledge."

Janet George, of the British Fields Sports Society (BFSS), said: "For years, we've been battling to bring the truth about field sports and the animal rights movement to the public and, particularly, to the politicians. But the animal rights movement has had more money to play with than we have."

John Bryant, of the League Against Cruel Sports, said the initiative was a clear bid to fight off Labour plans to ban hunting.

"The emphasis of the CBG is in defending what they see as field sports and we see as blood sports. But the only one that needs defending is hunting of foxes because that's the only one the MPs might act on."

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