IN THE biggest anti-hunt demonstration of the season, nearly 300 saboteurs put the New Forest Foxhounds to flight yesterday.
It was - in marked contrast to escalating violence that has marked this hunting season - a bloodless victory, partly ensured by sheer numbers and a massive police presence.
The New Forest Hunt saw the ragged host of young protesters plodding steadily towards them across the sun-parched expanse of Ocknell Heath, then quickly turned and bolted for the distant horizon.
The huge turnout had been called in reprisal for fierce fighting between saboteurs and the Hambledon Hunt in Hampshire a week ago, which led to five saboteurs being taken to hospital.
Vans packed with supporters had responded to a call from the Hunt Saboteurs' Association by driving from as far afield as Bolton, Cornwall and Liverpool to meet at Rownham service station on the M27 near Southampton. From here, escorted by police, the saboteurs set out for the the New Forest.
One passing van driver had no doubt where his sympathies lay. 'God bless you my lovelies,' he told the saboteurs. 'The forest needs people like you.'
In last week's battle across the Hampshire countryside, one saboteur received broken ribs when a fence post was hurled through his windscreen. Another had a broken nose and concussion while a third was hit by a van.
The most serious clashes occurred at the gates of the 5,000- acre Clarendon Park estate at Alderbury, near Salisbury, where saboteurs allege that they were ambushed and had five vehicles damaged. The estate's owner, Andrew Christie-Miller, a Wiltshire county councillor, says he is considering banning the hunt next season, for the safety of the community.
'One of my employees who tried to stop a saboteur was knocked down and had a hand- held radio, worth pounds 400, stolen,' he said. 'Another man with him was also knocked down.'
Two weeks ago, police in Surrey searched a van containing 10 employees of Countrywatch on their way to protect a meeting of the Surrey Union foxhounds.
Inspector Ray Adams, of Dorking police, says a number of sticks, including pickaxe handles and billiard cues, were confiscated.
Dave Dunne, a New Zealander and head of Countrywatch, said that three of his employees had been dismissed after the incident.
'The sticks were tucked in a hold-all in the back of the van for use in an emergency if they had any reason to defend themselves,' he added.
Mr Christie-Miller is worried about the escalation of violence on both sides of a private war. He is talking to huntsmen, police and fellow councillors before making a final decision about banning hunting on his land.
'I've always been a keen supporter of country sports,' he said. 'You can't let mob rule dictate. On the other hand I'm not prepared to invite a situation where damage to life and limb and property might occur.
'Sooner or later someone's going to get killed.'Reuse content