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Wye, Whitehall and Wales April 2014

With the takeover of Wye College by Imperial College London the writing has been on the wall for Wye Beagles for some time and it was with great sadness that we, with over 200 others attended their closing meet recently. The Wye College Beagles were formed in 1947 and were hunted for the 1947-48 season in amalgamation with Sir Newton Rycrofts Dummer Beagles as the Wye College and Dummer Beagles. The Wye College Principal, Mr D Skilbeck, was Hunt Chairman from 1948-68 and much of the progress in those years, including the rebuilding of kennels, was due to his interest and organisation. The beagles were funded by the considerable support of the students and the local population, but with the closing of the college the village of Wye lost:- a great employer, a world renowned faculty of learning and a training ground for young hunt staff.
The loss of the beagles in 2001 as a result of action by the ALF and the consequent recovery of a single hound happened at the start of my tenure as Chairman. Many leads were followed to recover the lost hounds and I racked up over 2000 miles in a few weeks following every potential siting, but it was all to no avail. Only a single hound Sextant, which had been mutilated by being amateurishly castrated and having had his ear tattoo scraped out was ever recovered. Despite spin from gloating antis regarding the beagles being rehomed, evidence suggests that that none of the other hounds survived beyond their final photograph sent in to the national press by the thieves.
However, the theft did not destroy the pack or the student spirit behind it and with some generous drafts from all over the country we were soon back to full strength. A day or two after the theft we were hunting again, accompanied by lots of positive media attention. This included delightfully townie Channel 4 camera crew who we sent down from London and who stayed out with us all day (unlike the BBC who left shortly after we moved off). The Channel 4 camera team were amazed that we bundled them into vehicles to get the camera into just the right place to see hounds working time after time. They were surprised that we fed and watered them thought the day and then invited them back for tea at the end of the day as they had heard that hunting people were stand offish, and they were shocked at the support the beagles were shown by the rural community and the resolve to get the beagles safely returned. This willingness to be open with the crew may not have made any converts to the cause, but did at least show them a true image of the rural hunting community rather than the misinformation supplied by the antis – a rare public relations triumph, and almost the only positive from what was a terrible low point for the hunt.

This month also saw a series of political announcements designed to bring the situation for hunting with hounds in England and Wales in line with that in Scotland. This presented the anti hunt forces with a problem in that they paraded the Scottish Protection of Wild Mammals Act as a success but decided that any move to reach a similar position in England and Wales was contrary to their animal rights dogma. The LACS and its level of backing is dwindling but vocal supporters are a bit like a schizophrenic hydra – with each head deciding what it wants at any single moment in time, a position that makes any sort of evidence led rational debate with them a virtual impossibility.
It is hoped that the proposals, based as they are on scientific empirical evidence combined with the principles of utility and welfare of the quarry, will be enacted. But, with a coalition partner more worried about its own future than those of a few rural foxes we are not confident that this will be the case.
Finally, we have just received a new hard backed book from Lyn Harber entitled Hunters of the Welsh Hills in which the author brings together stories, reports and interviews with Welsh huntsman in a very readable style. Much like our own Pre Annual 1870-83, the book contains information and reports on hunts and the characters within them that have been consigned to a foot note in history and Lyn has done a marvelous job in bringing the life and times of these people into focus once more. One of the fascinating parts of the book for students of hound breeding is the chapter on the Welsh hound drawn largely from a work of 1888. However the book also comes up to date with interviews with huntsman such as Alex Ford and Gary Barber. Gary recounts that in order to look after the Gelligaer hounds he had to work the night shift in a coal mine because the hunt did not bring in enough income on its own. This is perhaps something worth noting and to remind our parliamentary representatives of, when they vocalize their disdain for hunting people as ‘toffs riding about in red coats’.
We have a full review of Hunters of the Welsh Hills which was written by David Harcombe in our Book Review section The book costs £30-00 with £6-00p&p and is available directly from the author, Lyn Harber at arraelpcs@aol.com

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