Rural lobby 'spent £3m defending blood sport'

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The Independent Online

The Countryside Alliance's claim that it promotes a broad range of rural interests has been blown apart by a leaked internal document showing that it spends millions of pounds defending blood sports and only a fraction of that sum on other countryside campaigns.

A leaked copy of the internal budget of the Alliance, seen by The Independent, shows that it spent millions last year campaigning to defend hunting, shooting and fishing – and lobbying against a ban on fox hunting.

More than £1.227m was allocated for Countryside Alliance campaigns on blood sports and fishing. A separate sum, almost £1.5m, allocated for political lobbying and public relations, was used entirely for campaigning designed to prevent a hunting ban being passed by Parliament.

The figures were seized on yesterday by anti-hunting campaigners who say they "blow the Countryside Alliance's cover" and expose it as an organisation devoted to preserving hunting in Britain.

Countryside Alliance leaders have repeatedly denied they are a "front" for the blood sports lobby and say that they represent a wide range of concerns of rural people.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) said the figures proved the alliance was not the "green welly brigade" but the "red coats" lobby. Dr Rick Smith, the UK director of Ifaw, said: "The difference between perception and reality is often startling and in this case it is a chasm. At least now they have been rumbled. These figures are the smoking gun which show the alliance is a single-issue organisation."

The alliance claims to be a campaigning body for all rural concerns including rural post offices, foot-and-mouth and agricultural jobs. It has stated in its promotional literature: "As a rural organisation that is concerned for the social and economic state of the countryside, the alliance has developed its rural agenda through its strong links with rural people and we campaign vigorously to make public policy take full account of rural needs."

But the budget for last year shows that only £236,800, from a budget of £7m, was allocated for the development of policy on issues such as post offices and transport despite claims that these were key agenda items.

Despite assertions that one of the alliance's most important activities was educating people about the countryside, it spent nothing on education last year, the leaked figures show.

A spokesman said the budget for 2000 showed a bigger investment in hunting issues than usual and that this would be scaled back this year.

Alex Armstrong, the deputy chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "The figures [for 2000] will show that we spent more on hunting than other matters. We knew that we would be dealing with potentially hostile legislation on hunting so we had to put our resources into opposing that.

"This year we will have spent a large amount on things other than hunting. The three campaigns [hunting, shooting and angling] are our frontline issues. They are supported by our PR department and all these other things as well."

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