Hunting is an emotive issue. Organisations such as the League
Against Cruel Sports criticise ’chasing animals to exhaustion and then
tearing them apart’. Hunt supporters, however, see fox-hunting as a form
of pest control and a necessary part of conserving the countryside.
The BFSS also promotes outdoor pursuits such as fishing, shooting and
At the end of last year the society expected that the government was
likely to change - and anticipated the presence of a large anti-hunting
majority in the House of Commons.
On 16 June 1997, Michael Foster, Labour MP for Worcester, introduced a
Private Member’s Bill to ban all hunting with dogs. The Bill is due for
its second reading on 28 November.
To promote the interests of its 80,000 full members and to protect their
right to hunt with hounds. The BFSS also wanted to show the breadth of
its support and promote a rational discussion about the issues.
On Boxing Day 1996, at hunting meets around the country, the BFSS
launched a 900,000-postcard campaign addressed to Tony Blair, urging him
to leave the countryside alone. As a long-term strategy, the society
also urged its members to write to the press and to lobby MPs.
In the run-up to the General Election, every candidate received a ’Focus
on the Facts’ information pack. The pack highlighted the economic impact
on rural communities of banning hunting. It claimed that thousands of
jobs could be lost, including those of saddle makers and hotel
With the help of event specialist Pace Setters, the society organised a
rally on 10 July in London’s Hyde Park. It adopted the slogan ’The
Countryside Counts’ which aimed to widen the hunting issue to a town
versus country debate. The Government’s urban majority in Westminster
was portrayed as bullying the rural minority.
Labour peer Baroness Mallalieu was the key speaker at the rally, but
celebrities such as actor Jeremy Irons and naturalist David Bellamy
voiced their support.
A delegation delivered a message of protest to 10 Downing Street.
However, the day’s highlight was the arrival of marchers from Cornwall,
Wales, the Scottish Borders and Cumbria.
BFSS estimates that over 115,000 supporters attended the rally.
High-profile supporters included Tory leader William Hague and former
champion jockey Willie Carson. Except for the Mirror, the tabloids came
out in favour of the rally.
The actress Paula Hamilton being bitten by a ferret made an irresistible
picture story. The broadsheets took up issues such as civil liberties,
and the Guardian reported a downturn in government support for Foster’s
The society estimates the event was mentioned on 120 radio and TV items
on the day.
Widening the issue from hunting to the countryside was a smart move and
probably doubled the numbers who attended the rally. Focusing arguments
on civil liberties and threats to the rural economy also worked well and
helped to win over journalists such as Polly Toynbee. However, if
Foster’s bill does progress to the Lords, it may be the political
process that eventually squashes it.
Client: British Field Sports
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: The Countryside Counts
Timescale: Ongoing from December 1996
Cost: pounds 60,000 for the rally