MILITANT supporters of the campaign to save hunting with dogs defaced two national landmarks last week in an attempt to "draw public attention" to the hunting debate. In the Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire, territory of the Old Berkshire Hunt, an image of a huntsman and three hounds was daubed over the historic Uffington white horse, which is cut into the landscape.
A similar stunt was organised at the Kilburn White Horse in the Vale of York, the home ground of the Middleton Hunt, where a garish paper montage depicting a huntsman appeared on the hillside.
Responsibility for the action was claimed by the Real Countryside Alliance, a radical organisation which believes that mainstream countryside campaigners have not been sufficiently energetic in defending hunting interests. A spokesman for the group said: Some people in the country are getting very frustrated at the inaction. All we want is for ministers to take notice.
However, the latest stunts have concerned countryside campaigners. Bruce Tremayne, chairman of the Oxfordshire group of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said: Anything like this which defaces the landscape is unwelcome and we would be very sensitive to it, even if it is temporary. The whole point of enjoyment of the countryside is for its natural impact.
I know the white horse is not natural but it is now a well-loved landmark. A number of local people keep the horse clean and they will be very concerned by this development.
Local hunting figures had heard of the actions but had not seen the images. Simon Hart, director of the Campaign for Hunting, said: I have not got to the bottom of it but I have been told that no one has been involved in the desecration of a national monument or landmark. I understand, too, that all materials used are harmless and biodegradable, and will not cause permanent damage. It is likely the images have already disappeared.
He added: "We dont condone unlawful action but these actions are an example of the passion and resolve which people feel about the issue. There is huge interest in this and Parliament must get it right and respect the evidence."
However, in a letter to The Times, Mrs J. E. B. Leigh-Pemberton, Master of The Old Berkshire Foxhounds - in whose hunt country the Uffington White Horse is situated- said that she was alarmed to hear that the hill carving had been daubed with paint by the Real Countryside Alliance, so went to see for herself what damage had been done.
Mrs Leigh-Pemberton wrote: "The mood of those I met on the hill was one of amused tolerance and some remarked it was a pity the paintings would not last very long. Indeed, the test of applying a little water to the paintings gave a satisfactory result; at the first drop of rain the White Horse hounds will be running away with the huntsman close behind them. I can
More action is expected form the Real Countryside Alliance in the run-up to the three-day public hearing on hunting, to be chaired by Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs Minister, beginning next Monday, September 9.
A further push for publicity is also certain to take place before the countryside march on September 22.