MEMBERS of the county’s fox hunting community gather at Rydal Park next week as the future of the sport remains in doubt, writes Countryide Reporter Ellis Butcher.

Fourteen packs including hunts from Derby, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and the North East are due at the Vale of Rydal Sheepdog Trial and Hound Show on the outskirts of Ambleside.

The 102-year-old event is predom-inantly led by sheepdog trials but is also a platform for working dogs, including foxhounds, with classes for terriers, harriers and beagles, and three hound trails. It is expected to attract between 2,000 and 3,000 people on August 14.

Bruce Logan, a committee member and former long-serving master of the Coniston Foxhounds, expected the future of the sport and the long term viability of the event to be in people’s minds.

Mr Logan said: “I think people are very concerned about what is going to happen and if hunting was stopped it would have a great effect on the event because I think 50 per cent of people attend because of the hunting side and, of course, that would go.

“You cannot tell what the committee would do and I think it would be all right for another year but then…I’m very worried. It would be up to the committee to decide if they would carry it on as just one (sheepdog trial) event.” The fox hunting season is due to start again in September and already local packs have signalled their intent to defy any ban.

Coniston Foxhounds chairman and master Roger Westmoreland said he would carry on even if legislation was introduced as did Alison Bolt, of the North Lonsdale fell pack.

David Stocker, of the Countryside Alliance, said: “The future of the event is contingent upon the fate of hunting with hounds.

“If you have a show which, at its heart, has hunting dogs and there is a ban on hunting, it would seem the nature of the show and the form it has been in for more than 100 years, would be impossible to continue.

“Fifty per cent of the audience may not be hunting people or people interested in hunting dogs, but they are 50 per cent of the tourist element.” Nationally, pro-hunt organisations expect the Lords to reject the Hunting Bill next month after it was cleared by the Commons. It is believed the Parliamentary Act could be used for it to become law.

Anti-hunt representatives said this week that the Government would invoke the Act to allow the House of Commons to introduce the law.

Mike Hobday, of the League Against Cruel Sports, said the show amounted to “promoting hunting” and was “the perfect way to put tourists off the Lake District.” He said: “It is a shame they feel the need to promote hunting. Fox hunting will be banned very shortly. Within 18 months there will be no fox hunting.” Of claims that any ban could be flouted by defiance, Mr Hobday said: “It is quite shocking that people who for many years have held themselves up as the guardians of the countryside are now saying they are prepared to break the democratically elected law of the land - that will win them no sympathy in the town or country.”