Both sides of the hunting debate

THIS is an important part of the year for everyone involved in hunting, with meetings taking place over the Christmas and New Year period. DAVID LENNARD and JENNI DIXON spoke to hunt supporters and opponent.

THIS is an important part of the year for everyone involved in hunting, with meetings taking place over the Christmas and New Year period. DAVID LENNARD and JENNI DIXON spoke to hunt supporters and opponent.

A FARMER believes hunting with dogs is the least cruel way of keeping the population of hares down.

John Ibbott, 50, from Chediston, near Halesworth, has been hunting since he was 10 years old and has been one of the joint masters of the Waveney Harriers for six years.

He felt replacing hounds with “gun packs” - where the dogs frighten foxes into the open, where they can be shot - was far crueller than the traditional way of hunting.

“The reality is that if you do not shoot them clean dead, the suffering in some instances is far worse,” said Mr Ibbott.

“At a hunt, the hounds move off and draw a piece of land to try and find a scent of the quarry and when they get it, they will bark and follow it. But four times out of five the quarry is smarter and they will lose it.

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“Hunting is in that respect selective - the whole purpose is to eliminate the weak and sick, but if you're shooting, you do not know if you are killing young or old.

“Hunting kills the old and weak hares - the ones about to succumb to disease or foxes or starve to death. Dogs live to hunt, but the way we breed the dogs is in favour of the hare so that they hunt by nose and only by sight in last 50 yards.”

Mr Ibbott, whose wife Melanie and three stepchildren also hunt, also believed hunting had a great social and sporting impact on the countryside.

“It is one of the most socially-inclusive activities - all socio-economic groups are represented,” he said.

“We've had mechanics, swimming pool attendants, farmers, shopkeepers - you name them, we've got them, and as far as rural England goes, that is a very cohesive group. We're all on same social footing.

“Our pleasure is watching the hounds work, hunting quarry in their own environment. We are cherishing country life, preserving bio-diversity of species and we have great pleasure in thinking we are the guardians of the brown hare.”

Although the bill to ban hunting has been delayed by the House of Lords and was not included in the Queen's Speech, Mr Ibbott felt the future of hunting was secure whatever happens over the next few years.

“More young people in the area are wanting to join than every before. What we are doing is completely ethical and right and all investigations from the Government in the last few years have found no scientific reasons to ban hunting,” he said.

“Rural England will continue to do what they think is right, whatever a few MPs in London might think.”

A VETERAN anti-hunting campaigner is convinced the Government will soon act to ban what she felt was a cruel and indefensible sport.

Jen Berry has protested against hunting all her life and, now a grandmother, her conviction is as strong as ever.

“Killing for fun is wrong, it is as simple as that,” she said. “I was brought up in the country and love horses and riding.

“My daughters all had ponies, but it is possible to enjoy riding and getting out and about in the countryside without having to kill wild animals.”

Mrs Berry dismissed the argument that hunting was a countryside versus town issue.

“There are very many country people who are opposed to hunting. The number of people against hunting is growing all the time and I am sure that this pressure will force the Government to take the necessary action to get legislation through parliament,” she said.

Mrs Berry has lived in the countryside with her husband Will, a skilled basketmaker, for almost all her life, but in the past few months the couple have moved to Halesworth.

“Having horses and living in the country, we experienced all the arguments for and against hunting,” she said.

“But in all those years I cannot see how hunt supporters can justify what they call a traditional sport. Hunts do not target nuisance foxes and groups like the Waveney Harriers go after hares.

“If these animals have to be controlled, then chasing them to the point of exhaustion before they are ripped apart by a pack of hounds is not the answer.

“Anyone treating a domestic pet in this way would soon end up in court facing cruelty charges.”

Mrs Berry has long been in favour of drag hunting, where an artificial trail is laid for the hounds to follow to their target.

“If there was a switch to drag hunting, there would be no need for job losses among hunt workers and no hounds would have to be destroyed,” she said.

“It would also give those who say the kill is not an important part of their sport a chance to enjoy a day's riding in the countryside.”

Mrs Berry said she had seen the number of people opposed to hunting grow steadily over the years.

“There is such a strong groundswell of public opinion against hunting that it should now be banned. The day cannot be far away when hunting for foxes, hares or deer is at an end,” she added.