Hunts face closure as their incomes slump by millions

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The Independent Online

Britain's foxhunts are facing an unprecedented financial crisis and many of the less fashionable packs are in danger of closure due to the uncertainty about the future of hunting.

Britain's foxhunts are facing an unprecedented financial crisis and many of the less fashionable packs are in danger of closure due to the uncertainty about the future of hunting.

The foot and mouth crisis, coupled with proposed legislation to ban hunting in England and Wales, has seen hunt incomes slump by tens of millions of pounds in the past nine months. Some packs find that members are not paying subscriptions when they can see little prospect of hunting resuming until November 2002 if at all.

Now that hunting with dogs has been banned in Scotland many fear that England and Wales will follow, and see little point in paying subscriptions when the sport might be outlawed by this time next year.

To help with the financial crisis, hunts are fundraising on an almost weekly basis. The Cheshire Forest Hunt raised £5,000 from a Donkey Derby and lamb roast while the Fitzwilliam in Peterborough organises hunt breakfasts every Saturday.

But traditional fund-raising events such as hunter trials and point-to-points have had to be cancelled due to the foot and mouth outbreak. Most hunt balls, another big generator of income for the hunts, were also cancelled this year. The sums of money involved are considerable. The Beaufort, in Gloucestershire, which remains fashionable and which the Prince of Wales attends, had an income of £462,000 this year. Point-to-point and social gatherings are thought conservatively to have brought in at least £50,000.

Hunt employees are being made redundant and small rural businesses that rely on hunts have also suffered. According to Simon Hart, from the Campaign for Hunting, hunt incomes have slumped by around 30 per cent. "Horses are not being brought in to prepare for hunting and there is a consequential knock-on effect to the feed merchants, saddlers and farriers. Hunts have had to position themselves on a ticking-over basis and some have had to lay off employees."

While no hunt has yet gone bankrupt, hunting sources say it is merely a matter of time. Mary Cushen, secretary of the Monmouthshire Hunt in Wales, says that although regular subscribers are paying, casual members and people who might hunt four or five times a year are not. "We have seen a fall off in our income. It is very doubtful that we shall hunt at all this season," she said. The hunt has laid off its whipper-in.

Mark Pearson, the master of South Dorset, said: "We have seen a significant dent in our revenue and a much lower than normal subscription income for this time of year. I suppose if hunting started again tomorrow there is every chance we might recover."

But this does not seem likely. Chris Burrows-Wood, Master of the Clifton-on-Teme in Herefordshire made his kennelman redundant earlier in the year and has himself had to take a part-time job as a climbing instructor in the evenings to make ends meet. "We are a farmers' hunt, we're not rich. Most of my subscribers are farmers, and they've been having a terrible time recently. I've got farmers who are paying their hunt subscriptions by monthly instalments. We're trying to sell two of our six horses at the moment but nobody wants them.

"I've sunk every penny I have into the hunt but if it doesn't pick up and hunting doesn't start soon then I suppose we shall have to fold. It is a huge concern to me and the local community."

Alistair Jackson, Director of the Master of Foxhounds Association said: "I've advised hunts to say this is going to be a curtailed season, but we must still have your subscriptions. There has been a good response in some places but there are plenty of problems at smaller hunts."