28 November 1997

One huntsman who would be on scrap-heap

BANNING hunting with hounds would leave huntsman Mark Bycroft without a job, a roof over his head, or much chance of a career.

It would also mean the destruction of the 38 pairs of hounds at the Felbridge kennels, and would have an impact on the rural economy of the Surrey countryside.

Since schooldays

Mr Bycroft has been employed with the hunt since leaving school, first with the Fitzwilliam in Lincolnshire and more recently as huntsman for the Old Surrey and Burstow hunt. "I havent got any other training or qualifications so if hunting was banned my very livelihood would disappear."

He is frustrated that the anti-hunting lobby has failed to take into account the many services that hunts provide for the agricultural community. "We provide a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year collection service for casualty stock, collecting more than 1000 animals a year.

Invaluable service

"With many smaller knackermen going out of business and the larger knackermen not prepared to pick up casualty stock, we are providing an invaluable service so that the farmer does not have to bury carcasses on farm.

"We do not formally charge but ask for a small donation, and basically the collection service is funded through subsciptions and fund-raising activities.

"Once we have collected the animals we have to skin and gut them and then remove the specified risk material, which gets dyed blue while the other offals get dyed black. The renderers then charge us £170/t for specified risk material and £80/t for the other offals."

The kennels have been at Felbridge since the war, but a ban on fox-hunting would put them out of business. Campaigners seeking a ban claim dogs could be used on drag hunts, but Mr Bycroft, who houses six pairs of hounds for the Mid-Surrey Drag Hounds, disagrees.

Trained to hunt

"The hounds are trained to hunt quarry, and the artificial scent used in drag hunting just wouldnt work. They cannot be used as pets and so they would have to be destroyed, which would be heart-breaking. I have trained these animals and know all of them by name."

His house, which comes as part of the job, would go if a ban was instigated, and his deputy, the hunts whipper-in, would also lose his job.

"Then there is the knock-on effect in the community, which would severely hit the local farrier, who makes much of his money at this time of year from the hunt. The feed merchant would lose out and clothes manufacturers, saddlers and boot-makers would all feel the pinch."