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Anti-hunters target shooting

THE UK’S leading anti-hunting organisation has turned its attention to shooting and plans to kill off the sport now that hunting with dogs has been banned.

Eighty per cent of its 20,000 members of the League Against Cruel Sports voted for a motion at its Annual General Meeting last week to give its ruling council the power to sell off land - which could include existing wildlife sanctuaries - to raise cash to buy moorland and foreshore which has shooting rights.

The plan is to resell the land but retain the shooting rights to create no-shooting zones. The money raised would be used to buy more land.

Since the 1950s the organisation has built up a property portfolio of more than 2,000 acres, mainly around the traditional deer-hunting area on Exmoor. It bans all forms of hunting on its land.

Mike Hobday, spokesman for the league, confirmed that it was now reviewing "the value and intrinsic purpose" of 30 pieces of land. No decision had yet been taken to sell any animal sanctuaries but the ten-member executive committee now has the power to do so without seeking approval from members.

Some members argue that the sale of any sanctuaries would undermine the organisation’s commitment to conservation and wildlife management.

The plan has outraged Britain’s 1 million shooters, who have feared for some time that the league would target them once the hunt ban was in force, despite Prime Minister Tony Blair’s personal assurance, as long ago as 1998, that shooting and angling would not be banned. However, LACS has made its intentions towards ending both sports clear.

Simon Clarke, for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, described the league as extremist and said that some people may simply refuse to sell land to it.

BASC has already warned landowners and farmers to be alert for third-party buyers acting for the league.

Tim Bonner, for the Countryside Alliance, said: "This is confirmation that the league’s sanctuaries never had anything to do with managing wildlife and were all about the politics of prohibition.

They now seem ready to sacrifice any pretension of being a conservation group in order to pursue a ban on shooting."

The alliance is particularly concerned that the league’s cash assets could affect the future of wildfowling clubs that own or lease thousands of acres of foreshore and wetland in England and Wales. Foreshore in Scotland is owned by the Crown.

The clubs are able to acquire foreshore because it has little use. An acre may fetch only £250 with shooting rights. Without the rights it would be virtually worthless. Interest from LACS might force up the prices.

Similarly, moorland used for grouse shooting is of little value without the sport and may fetch below £500 an acre. With shooting rights it could be well over £1,000.

Sales of league land could raise a great deal of capital, something that the League desperately needs The LACS AGM was told that it had been left just under £1 million in legacies last year, 63 per cent of its income. The rest comes mainly from membership subscriptions.

A campaign against shooting is supported by other charities such as Animal Aid and the Labour Animal Welfare Society. Its website states "hunting down — shooting to go".

However, the RSPCA is remaining cautious by not seeking a ban but is instead lobbying for a code of practice to protect pheasants reared for commercial shoots.

Ministers insist that there is no government intention to restrict shooting sports, which are worth £1 billion a year to the rural economy. Jim Knight, the new Rural Affairs Minister, was expected to endorse this view publicly this week when he was due to attend a shoot for MPs organised by the BASC.