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More townies back countryside protest

URBAN COUNTRYSIDE protestors may be a contradiction in terms – not to mention relatively rare, but hundreds of townies showed solidarity with their rural counterparts last Sunday by standing shoulder to shoulder with them on the march through London.

With more experience of urban life than rural decline, few of them say they will be marching primarily because of concerns about threats to village communities, the squeeze on countryside services or the crisis in farming.

Instead, urban marchers such as Samantha Bartram, born in Manchester, now resident in very urban Wimbledon, south-west London, are among the most vociferous opponents of a ban on hunting with dogs.

Mrs Bartram, 51, has never hunted, but said she would be marching from the Liberty starting point because "I do not think townies - although I am one - should impose their views on people from the countryside. Just because there are more of us does not mean we are right.

"A lot of townspeople have the wrong idea about the rights of animals. I do not think hunting is cruel and if my fellow townies had seen, as I have, what a fox does to chickens, they would agree that it is a terrible killer."

Mrs Bartram, who runs a bridge club, said she used to be opposed to hunting.

"I have never hunted or seen a kill, but I informed myself and now I am fervently against a ban on hunting," she said.

"I am really concerned that people who know little about the reality of hunting - that it is something that stretches across the entire rural community - are trying to stop it without really understanding the issues.

"I think I might be able to do something about changing things where I live. But it is arrogant for anyone in a town to think they have any idea how to change a way of life in the countryside."

Another Townie who joined the march is Alex Bergin-McCarthy, 26, a broker born and bred in Ilford, Essex, now living in Clapham, south-west London.

Rapid turnaround

Until his girlfriend, Kirstie MacGillivray, 28, also a broker, bought him a horse for Christmas, Mr Bergin-McCarthy was "at best neutral but by instinct probably anti-hunting".

He said: "I had never seen a fox, nor been on a farm, until I got the horse. But I have made a rapid turnaround since I found out what hunting was really about."

Mr Bergin-McCarthy and Miss MacGillivray now hunt with the Surrey Union. They will be marching from the Liberty starting point in support of hunting, but also, Mr Bergin-McCarthy said, "to protest at the Government's mismanagement of the foot and mouth crisis".

Last year's epidemic "brought the countryside to a standstill", he said. "If the same thing had happened in central London, the Government would have acted far quicker."

Samantha Fletcher, a private equity entrepreneur working in Cork Street, Mayfair, described herself after 15 years living in Fulham, south-west London, as "thoroughly townie in outlook" but galvanised into action by "a threat to the way I grew up".

Miss Fletcher, 35, was born in Yorkshire and hunted from the age of six to 15. She gave it up "when I discovered boys and the better things in life".

She said: "I feel it is time to make a stand, to be counted for believing in something that is very important to rural communities, which should be left to lead their lives as they want to lead them.

"I do not think the Government is listening to what people in the country really want and it has become a case of the majority imposing views on a minority they do not understand."

"If we do not act now, they will stop us shooting and fishing as well," she said. "Hunting is a way of life. We live in a democracy, yet we are being dictated to.

"There are many more important issues for the Government to spend its time on, rather than trying to squash a minority.

"It is surely a sign that this Government is not listening to what rural people need and want that there will be a lot of law-abiding citizens marching through the streets of London on Sunday."