Hare & Hounds

BY NIGEL BEAN

The farmer awoke in his Norfolk farm house. Was that a flash light shining through his window in the dead of night? He must be seeing things having just woken, he told himself. A few minutes later there it was again, he wasn’t seeing things after all. So he reached across and dialled an emergency number he had set in his phone. It was 3:00 in the morning. The call was answered, “righto be there in 15” came the reply. The farmer had just started a chain reaction of calls, he rolled over and went back to sleep.

Fifteen minutes later, summary justice gets served, with a straight right followed by an upper cut, a flurry of kicks and punches followed by foul language then a crow bar through the back window of the poacher’s car window for good measure. This is how illegal coursing – the current scourge of the countryside – was dealt with before ignorant urban Labour interfered in country ways.

Woe betide anyone foolish enough to poach hares on land where coursing was allowed. There was no phone call to the police. No wasting their time and taxpayers’ money. Justice was served swiftly by those who had a keen interest in preserving hare numbers. This form of justice guaranteed the perpetrators wouldn’t return and gave nearly all year round protection for the hares.

I say “nearly” because these hare protectors wanted something in return and that was to run their gaze hounds against the hares in coursing competitions. These were properly organised events with marshals to ensure fairness. The hare was driven past a slip, it was the marshal’s job to judge if the hare was fit enough to be coursed – if it was, he would release the hounds at the exact same moment. Even the ground was assessed for the going throughout the day as this would affect the ‘law’. This is the distance given to the hare before the hounds are released. The Points system was based around turning the hare not killing it – sure, one in seven would get caught but they ended up in the pot at the end of the day, the vast majority would escape unharmed after a short chase.

I had the privilege of attending one such event, I had met a gentleman on a countryside march in 2002 who told me what he did and invited me along. It was an exclusive club – he had to seek permission first from other members for this was no ordinary coursing club. This was one of the very few whippet coursing clubs in the country.

On the day I headed over to Cambridgeshire to the home of a very welcoming farmer. The club had hired a horse for the female judge, this was trailered to the venue. The horse must have been trained specially for this job, it was fully clipped out and wore a Newmarket rug the entire day as it was mainly walking and the cold had to be kept at bay. The red, yellow and black of the Newmarket rug coupled with the Judge’s red jacket made for a resplendent sight against the dull of winter.

How it worked was the slip would lead up the middle of the field with the two whippets, one wearing a blue neckerchief and the other red. These two would run the hare, they were followed by the mounted judge and the followers with whippets in tow would walk line abreast behind the judge. On putting up a hare the slip would judge its fitness and stamina then decide when to release the two competing whippets. Off they would fly with the judge riding like mad from behind. She would be judging the speed and agility of the whippet – which one came closer to the hare and which one turned it. She had a perfect viewing platform and could see into the next field if the course continued, she would then decide on the winner and hold aloft the corresponding coloured neckerchief to announce the winner to the followers. Then it was the turn of another pair of whippets to have a go.

It was amazing to watch. There is little better than seeing a gaze hound in full flight. The hare – although an agricultural pest – was in plentiful supply. This was another area under the protection of the vigilantes and their justice system. And to note, plenty of really exciting courses – not one hare killed. Whippets have the distinct advantage over their larger cousins in the fact that once they lose sight of the hare they turn around and run back to their owner.

So a great day was had. What could possibly wrong with this wonderful little setup and the protection afforded the hares?

Labour.

That’s what went wrong.

Townies sticking their noses into rural affairs.

Now I can accept mistakes are made by politicians through ignorance, but Labour held an inquiry into hunting dogs. Their own inquiry informed them of grave concerns of those currently affording hare protection.

So what happened as a result of the ban? A few days after the ban 10,000 hare were shot to deter poachers, then thousands upon thousands more just as disbelieving Labour were told – that this would also be the most likely outcome of any ban.

Labour are directly responsible for illegal coursing and a fall in hare numbers, but still at least they can campaign against a problem of their own making.

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