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British hunts seek foreign fields

The traditional British hunting call of ‘Tally Ho!’ could soon be replaced by "Taiaut!"
Thousands of British hunters are planning to pursue their sport in France, Ireland, America and many other European countries if it is banned across Britain, now that Parliament has voted overwhelmingly – again – for a total ban.

Hunts around the world are gearing up for an influx of hunters if, as expected, Tony Blair pushes through a complete ban on hunting with hounds after MPs voted two weeks ago to reject compromise plans for a limited number of licensed hunts.

Leaders of the foreign hunts have told their British counterparts that they will be welcome to join them in their countries, where the sport has not engendered the class hatred it has in Britain.

In Ireland, where hunting tourism is already becoming an important part of the rural economy, one operator expected the number of British visitors to double.

Oliver Walsh, who runs Flowerhill House Hunting Holidays in Co Galway, said: "In the short term it is going to be quite lucrative. If hunting is banned in Britain I can foresee an increase in English hunters in Ireland of at least 50 per cent, which means a couple more thousand visitors."

Ireland has 100 equine hunts and another 200 on foot, and Mr Walsh, who has 90 horses and 44 hounds, charges £1,000 for a four-day hunting holiday. "I have a 240-acre estate so I can take runs on my own land or with adjoining landowners with their permission," he said.

In America, where there are 179 hunts, an influx from Britain is being anticipated. Laura Hunt, who owns The Hunting Box, which organises holidays in Virginia, said that a number of British hunters had expressed an intention to circumvent any ban by travelling abroad.

"English people have mentioned that they will come over because of the ban," she said. "It is something that is talked about in hunting circles over here. Thousands of people will come over in the beginning and some will even move here permanently. People are very passionate about their hunting. We welcome more British guests. A typical five-day stay with three hunts is about $1,100 [£650]."

Lt Col Dennis Foster, the executive director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America, said: "The British would be greeted with open arms. I think hundreds of British hunters will come to America."
Best option

Lt Col Foster added, however, that he expected most British hunters to go to France. "Most hunters are middle class and would not be able to afford regular trips to America," he said.

Yves Lecocq, the secretary of the Federation of Hunting and Conservation Associations, which represents field sports organisations in 28 countries, agreed that France would be the best option on the Continent for British hunters.

"At the moment there are a couple of dozen English guests joining French hunts," he said. "If hunting was banned in England, it would increase to several hundred or a few thousand." He added: "If the English were to set up their own hunt in France it would require great diplomacy so they are not thought of as intruders.

"The more logical way is that English hunters join French packs. They could either hire horses or take their horses to France for the season."

French hunters mostly pursue stag and wild boar to the cry of "Taiaut!", from which the British are thought to have taken the call of "Tally-Ho!" when horseback hunting became popular in Britain after the Norman invasion of 1066.

Pierre de Boisguilbert, the secretary-general of the French Society of Hunting, said: "We are more than happy for people from the UK to hunt here but there are already 440 hunts and we have no room for any more. We could easily take more individuals but we could not take hundreds at a time because our hunts are smaller."

Mikus Lindemann, a London banker and member of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, said that he would travel overseas if hunting were banned across Britain. The 37-year-old, who has hunted in France, Italy, Portugal and Ireland, said: "It's fantastic to hunt in different landscapes. When I was in Rome we galloped down the Via Appia over Roman flagstones and aqueducts behind a man with a top hat. It was completely surreal."

Simon Hart, the director of the Campaign for Hunting, warned, however, that hunting holidays were beyond the reach of most British enthusiasts and added that the effects of a ban in England and Wales would be devastating for the rural economy.

"Most of the hunting community could not afford to be hunting tourists and in one fell swoop many of them would lose their animals, their way of life and some of them would even lose their homes if hunting were to be banned," he said.