Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Article excerpt

My house in south Northamptonshire looks out over parkland on which Henry VIII used to hunt deer with Anne Boleyn. The only deer on it nowadays are the unhunted muntjacs, charmless little creatures that only arrived in England from Asia 400 years later;

but there still are plenty of foxes, which carry out periodic massacres of my chickens. I am in the country of the famous Grafton hunt, but the hunt, alas, never ventures into my area because of the busy roads that surround it. The Grafton is still, however, extremely active elsewhere in the county and thrives just as much as it did before Parliament's ban on hunting with hounds came into effect nine years ago. The law says that you can't hunt a fox to its death with more than two hounds, but there is nothing to stop you exercising large packs of hounds provided you don't let them kill any foxes.

What really happens on foxhunts nowadays is a mystery to me, but it must still be pretty exciting to command such continued support and enthusiasm. A kind of omerta surrounds the question. Ask a member of the Grafton hunt, and you don't get a straight answer, just a complacent, slightly conspiratorial look. So hunting would still seem to yield most of its traditional satisfactions to those who practise it; and this is not surprising, given not only the reluctance of the police to enforce the law but also the huge difficulties they face in doing so. It is a law so muddled that it allows the hunting of rabbits, but not squirrels; of rats, but not mice (I like the idea of mouse-hunting); and if a dog were to kill a fox in forbidden circumstances, it would be necessary to prove that a person had told it to do so in order to achieve a successful prosecution. It is not therefore a reason for astonishment that so few people have been successfully prosecuted during the past nine years.

So really it has been a kind of victory for the hunting fraternity. Despite an exceptionally vigorous campaign, which included a demonstration in London by 400,000 people in September 2002, the biggest show of disgruntlement by country people since the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, they failed to stop Parliament passing its stupid bill with the dishonourable support, subsequently regretted, of the then prime minister, Tony Blair. …

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