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We’ll meet again, at last!
- disbanded hunt re-established

TWO YEARS after disbanding in the wake of the Scottish hunting ban, one of the country’s oldest hunts has re-organised and its members are hunting – and socialising – once again.

When the 150-year-old Dumfriesshire Hunt was disbanded in 2002 after the Scottish Executive banned hunting with hounds, its many followers found that a large part of their social calendar had disappeared with it. They realised that hunting is not just about controlling foxes, but also about socialising at the hunt ball, point-to-point races, and generally keeping in touch with like-minded people.

Now, two years after disbanding following the hunt ban, Dumfriesshire has reformed, is actively seeking new members and is meeting on farms and estates where hunting has never previously taken place.

Foxes are once again being controlled with the help of horses and hounds and something like a normal social life has been restored, according to Daphne Thorne, the hunt secretary.

"Pretty soon, people realised they were missing each other," she said. "We used to meet at all sorts of occasions and that just disappeared. Now we are going to have a hunt ball again and we have started up a point-to-point which is a great rural social event second only to the county show.

"We found that a lot of people in the country wanted to continue hunting and that there was still a high demand for fox control. But it took us a couple of years to work round the new laws. The new form of hunting that has been forced on us is not so nice but it is better than nothing."

The reformation of the Dumfriesshire, which has been supported in the past by the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal, means that all 10 Scottish hunts are still operating despite the ban – much to the irritation of anti-hunting campaigners who were furious that the anti-hunting Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill put forward by Lord Watson of Inver Gowrie, contained loopholes to allow hunting to continue legally in its new form.

Before the hunt sets off, the traditional stirrup cup is served. But the mounted riders are accompanied by men on quad vehicles carrying shotguns who shoot foxes driven into the open by the hounds.

As the fox can no longer be chased across country, the riders derive most of their satisfaction from watching and listening to the hounds work and galloping from one covert to the next.

Malcolm Bell-Macdonald, a landowner and joint master of the Dumfriesshire, is delighted to be hunting again with the help of hounds contracted from a neighbouring hunt.

Before the latest outing, on farmland outside Lockerbie, he said those who were most closely involved felt it was their duty to re-establish hunting where it had been carried out "pretty successfully for a century and a half".

The Dumfriesshire was forced to disband because the landowner on whose ground it operated was concerned he could be prosecuted if the new laws were broken. However, since reforming several weeks ago the hunt has been welcomed on some farms and estates where fox control is required.

Mr Bell-Macdonald said: "There are still hounds and there are horses and there are foxes about. But this form of fox control is a fairly pale imitation, especially for people who have hunted all their lives.

"However, for those who have not hunted much it is rather good fun. We understand that we are now in the entertainment business.

"People come out with a view to gallop their horses across country and enjoy the pleasure that that brings them. But we do wish also to provide a service in terms of fox control."
Referring to the Bill to ban hunting in the UK and Wales, Mr Bell-Macdonald added: "The Government thinks this is a sport, but it is people's lives and personal choices they are dealing with and that is why the protesters are so angry."

An estimated 540 foxes are killed in Scotland each year by hunts while 18,000 are shot by farmers. When Lord Watson’s Bill was being discussed in its final stages two years ago, supporters of the anti-hunting Bill inserted an exemption to allow foxes to continue to be killed for pest control by being driven towards a line of shooters by packs of dogs pursued by huntsmen.

This practice is normally used in certain mountainous areas of Scotland where the huntsman normally go on foot.

Libby Anderson, of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said at the time that the hunts' plan would be opposed because chasing the fox was bad for it and stray shots could endanger dogs and riders.

"If there was a loophole that allowed this to happen I think it would be closed by the Parliament quickly," she said.

However, the Scottish Parliament failed to close the loopholes during their marathon final discussion of the Bill, allowing scores of amendments to go through ‘on the nod’, making the bill self-contradictory in parts. But for the ten hunts of Scotland – and most recently the Dumfriesshire – the loopholes have ensured that hunting go on and fox control is still carried out north of the border.