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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

British Fox Hunters Feel Preyed Upon

UPWOOD, England -- With his ruddy face, white hair and scarlet hunting jacket, 78-year-old Sir Stephen Hastings is the picture of an Englishman riding to hounds.

The thrill of fox hunting takes him from town to town throughout the picturesque English countryside as he follows rituals and traditions handed down through centuries.

Asking this former soldier, politician and diplomat whether the blood sport will ever be banned is like priming the hounds for the hunt. Leaning forward in his saddle, he bellows: "It's going to go on forever."

Under siege yet unbowed, Britain's fox-hunting enthusiasts are closing ranks to protect their sport and way of life, no matter the prevailing political winds.

"The country people may be a minority, but they are a formidable one," Hastings says.

For years, the hunters have found themselves the hunted, as politicians and animal rights proponents try to ban the sport, claiming that it's inhumane and out of date in a modern country.

Previous bills to outlaw fox hunting have failed to clear Britain's Parliament. But with Prime Minister Tony Blair on record that the sport should be banned, the issue could get another boost next spring when a panel is due to file a report on the effects a ban would have on rural employment.

The pro-hunt forces say 16,000 jobs could be lost; others say as few as 1,000.

Among those vowing to introduce to the House of Commons an anti-hunting measure is London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone. He recently told Britain's Press Association, "I don't think it's right that people tear apart and terrorize and hunt to death a fox, which is an intelligent and beautiful animal.

"I have no objection to hunters hunting each other."

Talk like that makes the hunters furious. They say that the city dwellers should clean up their own problems, such as urban crime, before sticking their noses into the country way of life.

"The biggest misconception townspeople have is that the countryside is cute and cuddly, the Bambi, Mickey Mouse-type thing," says George Bowyer, a joint master with the Fitzwilliam Hunt, which was established before the American Revolution.

"They think animals are sweet and cuddly and love each other and talk to each other," Bowyer says. "They tend to feel life should be like Walt Disney, and everyone who is nasty to animals is horrid. People don't realize anymore that death is part of life, and without death, you can't replenish the countryside."

Clearly, the hunters will not go quietly. Many are part of an influential lobbying group, the 85,000-strong Countryside Alliance, which was established to "champion the countryside, country sports and the rural way of life."

The pro-hunting forces say that they help protect the countryside, that the method of killing foxes with hounds is quick and effective.

Those opposed say the sport is cruel. They say it is far more effective to hire marksmen to shoot foxes, rather than have mounted riders and a pack of hounds do the job.

"The cruelty is not just the chase, but the disemboweling of an animal while it's alive, purely in the name of sport," says Simon Pope of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.