Ban could mean end of point-to-point

COUNTRYSIDE campaigners fear a possible ban on hunting could be the death knell for point-to-point racing.The Government's Hunting Bill is going through parliament at the moment.

COUNTRYSIDE campaigners fear a possible ban on hunting could be the death knell for point-to-point racing.

The Government's Hunting Bill is going through parliament at the moment. The pro-hunting lobby fear their sport is going to be banned altogether as the majority of MPs on the panel scrutinising the Bill want hunting with dogs to be outlawed.

Now Liz Mort, Countryside Alliance regional director for East Anglia is worried a hunting ban will have a detrimental knock-on effect on point-to-pointing.

"Point-to-point races are organised and staffed by members of mounted hunts throughout the UK and provide them with a significant proportion of the income that sustains them throughout the year.

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"All horses entered in the races have to have been "qualified", that is hunted regularly and fairly, with a recognised hunt. If hunting goes then so will many of the 200 point-to-point races enjoyed annually in the UK by around three-quarters of a million rural people."

There are nine point-to-point race days a year in Essex, from early January to the May bank holiday. Attendances vary from event to event with a total attendance of 35,000.

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The origins of point-to-pointing go back to the mid 19th century and grew out of steeplechasing that saw hunting folk race each other competitively across tracts of countryside from one church steeple to another.

There has always been a strong relationship between point-to-point racing and National Hunt Racing, where talented amateur jockeys from point-to-points have subsequently turned professional.

Ms Mort said: "The point-to-point race day is an annual highlight for many people living in rural areas, but if Alun Michael, the minister in charge of piloting this deeply hostile Bill, gets his way yet another part of what is already a deteriorating rural infrastructure will disappear. We are extremely worried about the situation we may be facing."

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports has written to the commander of Colchester Garrison urging him to allow only drag hunts on Army land

The move follows protests against plans for the Essex and Suffolk Hunt to meet on MoD land, including Friday Woods, at the invitation of the Army.

A hunt had been planned for Tuesday, but was postponed owing to fears that horses and hounds could caused security problems and get in the way as soldiers continued with preparations for deployment to the Gulf.

In the letter the league chief executive, Douglas Batchelor, reminded Colonel Tony Barton that the latest opinion poll by MORI showed 80% of people thought hunting with dogs was cruel. In another poll, 72% said they believed the hunters should go drag hunting instead.

The league's Colchester representative, Laina Cracknell, said: "We very much hope the Garrison commander will pay attention to the strength of the public feeling on this issue and tell the Essex and Suffolk Hunt they are only welcome if they switch to drag hunting."

Historically the hunt has taken place on MoD land for many years. An Army spokeswoman said: "The Colonel has not made a decision with regard to the letter but he will respond to it in due course."

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