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Hastingleigh Fox Hunting
There were plenty of arguments for both sides of the fox hunting debate, prior to the introduction of the ban on fox hunting, but over a decade on, from the ban, and the consequences of that ban are all too plain to see in the Kent countryside ...sadly.
Culturally, fox hunting has been part and parcel of rural life in Hastingleigh for centuries. During the hunting seasons, Hastingleigh was on the fox hunt itinerary for meets just about every week with the East Kent Hunt. There are more newspaper mentions of the hunt than just about every other topic put together when it comes to mentioning the parish. Hunting took place in the winter months when healthy cubs were of an age to outrun the dogs.
The hunting of foxes with dogs, was banned in the United Kingdom in early 2005. A working Beagle pack was kept at kennels in Wye, which were raided in 2001 by the animal liberation front, dog-napping 47 beagles. Later reports claim most of these dogs were destroyed by the ALF, though not all, as one Beagle was recovered in the Bristol area having been castrated and had its tattooed ear mutilated in an attempt to prevent it being linked back to the Wye Kennels. He was returned home to Wye.
Hunting provided a carefully managed service which farmers and fox skulks needed. It was not simply hunting for sports sake. As barbaric as it may appear on the surface to those not familiar with the welfare benefits of the activity, to see foxes chased for miles and miles, one must be remember the damage that a concentrated fox population can do to flocks of sheep and other livestock, which are peoples' livelihoods too, as well as being detrimental to a healthy fox population.
Fox management, enabled the weaker, diseased and disabled fox numbers to be kept to a minimum, it helped prevent inbreeding populations of foxes, it allowed for countryside wardens to redistribute healthy young fox cubs, to dilute the gene pool. This prevented the inevitable disabling conditions we now see, caused by a far too concentrated a gene pool.
The first foxes to be picked off would be those who were less able to escape, ensuring a much healthier fox population survived for breeding in the future.
Having seen some ghastly sights in recent years, of increasing numbers of disease ridden and disabled foxes in the Kent countryside, which were rarely seen in the days of hunting, it is abundantly clear that of all other systems of fox control available, none is as effective at selectively filtering out the unhealthy animals for the overall benefit of a healthy fox population.
Within a decade of abandoning fox management, there are so many cases of mange ridden, mal-formed foxes limping around Kent and elsewhere, that the situation has become something of a rural disaster story.
The new government (as of May 2015) will soon be putting the topic of hunting back on the debate agenda, which may mean that we could see a return to a decent fox management system, and with it, a return of the hunt to Hastingleigh and surrounding parishes on a regular basis. The East Kent Hunt still remains an entity, and they have adapted their activities in light of the ban on fox hunting. The one element to suffer the greatest harm since the ban, is undoubtedly the Kent fox.
Here are some of the more detailed descriptions of fox hunting meets in Hastingleigh from various early 20th century newspapers. Those familiar with the area will have no trouble visualising the routes of these chases, as the scenary has changed little in the past century.