'Let's go hunting': Beaufort battles on

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Indy Politics

Yesterday, on a bitterly cold November morning, a small, angry army gathered in the driving sleet on the Duke of Beaufort's rolling Badminton estate in Gloucestershire. Some 200 on horseback, accompanied by several hundred equally determined foot soldiers, were here for the Beaufort Hunt - one of the oldest and grandest.

Yesterday, on a bitterly cold November morning, a small, angry army gathered in the driving sleet on the Duke of Beaufort's rolling Badminton estate in Gloucestershire. Some 200 on horseback, accompanied by several hundred equally determined foot soldiers, were here for the Beaufort Hunt - one of the oldest and grandest.

The hunt takes place four days a week, and has been attended recently by the Prince of Wales and both of his sons. Fox-hunting has taken place on this estate for nearly 250 years. But in less than three months' time, thanks to the passing of the Hunting Bill on Thursday, gatherings such as this could become mere preliminaries to an illegal activity.

As the riders assemble, their mounts snorting and stamping in the cold, the overwhelming feeling is one of frustration, anger - and a determination to defy what they see as the political machinations of Parliament.

Lord Mancroft, a stalwart of the hunt who has been riding with groups such as this since 1966, described the ban - which will come into effect on 18 February - as "ludicrous'' and "unenforceable".

"This is an abuse of power, and the House of Commons will have to be curbed,'' said Lord Mancroft, riding yesterday morning with his three children, Georgia, 11, Arthur, nine, and six-year-old Max - on only his second hunt. "They've criminalised us simply because they don't like what we do. The kind of language they've been using is similar to that used against the Jews in Nazi Germany."

Lord Mancroft said he was determined to fight the ban, even if it meant breaking the law. "For the police this will be a nightmare,'' he said. "I think most people will continue to hunt. They will just cock a snook to the ban."

The hounds are released from their kennels, baying and yelping in the freezing country air. The joint master of the hunt, Captain Ian Farquhar, called his charges to attention in military fashion. This is an eve of battle speech.

"This is our first meet since the shenanigans, the shambles, the ridiculous behaviour we saw in the Commons this week," he bellows. "This was not voted for by the Prime Minister and obviously it will be legally challenged. On behalf of myself and everyone involved in the hunt I can assure you that we have a very, very strong resolve that hounds will always be kept at Badminton. We will conduct a sensible and law-abiding activity, but the hunt will continue."

Reining in his horse, Captain Farquhar blows once on the horn in his hand: "Now, let's go hunting," he shouts.

As the riders thunder off into the rain, the hounds bounding along in front of the galloping hooves, searching for the scent of a fox, applause ripples through the crowd.

One unlikely supporter among the assembled masses left in the mud is Jim Barrington, former director of the League Against Cruel Sports and an ex-hunt saboteur. "It's very easy to demonise people from behind a desk in London, but these are not barbarians,'' said Mr Barrington, who held his post at the League Against Cruel Sports for seven years. "You have to look at alternatives and realise that a ban will not improve animal welfare but make it worse."

James Gray MP, shadow minister for rural affairs, was there. "The number of people who have turned out today is evidence of how strong the feeling is against this illiberal, ignorant and prejudiced ban ... This was never anything to do with fox-hunting, it was about having a go at the toffs."

Heavy snow begins to fall as the hunt is started again - steam coming off the horses forming a sinister mist as the pack charges past a small copse, followed by a large entourage of Land Rovers, dirt bikes and hardy souls on foot.

At a nearby pub, the Old Royal Ship in the village of Luckington, Harry Cursham, 39, said the ban would "demolish farming". "The House of Commons has treated us all with complete contempt ... This ban is evil."

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