New Countryside Alliance Chief interview

Repeal of the Hunting Act will ‘right a great wrong’, says the new chief executive of the Countryside Alliance (CA). Alice Barnard, who will succeed Simon Hart, now an MP, on October 4, is the 100,000-member organisation’s first woman chief executive and, at 33, the youngest. She has the prospect of presiding over an historic moment, if repeal of the 2004 Hunting Act is achieved.

‘David Cameron has repeated his commitment to it,’ says Mrs Barnard. ‘We have no reason to doubt that, but we are aware that the economy will take precedence. I think the hunting community has learned a lot since the ban, and everyone accepts that regu-lation will be part of hunting’s future. Could we be quicker to get out of the way when a non-hunting car is trying to get through?

Undoubtedly. But hunting people have realised they need to be more open and welcoming. And we are now in a political situation where people are prepared to assess the success or otherwise of legislation and address it, and that’s the brave and right thing to do.’

Mrs Barnard is married to Matt, a sporting photographer, and has a nine-year-old daughter; she is Cambridge-educated and was master of the Cambridge University Drag hounds. Following a London career in corporate sales, she became the CA’s regional director for the East, where she hunts with the Belvoir. She was on the Conservative candidates list, but has eschewed ambitions of being an MP. ‘This job has superceded that,’ she says. ‘It gives me the opportunity to bring a fresh approach to an organisation that has always captured me and to satisfy my poli-tical interests. Nothing is going to distract me from the CA.’

She adds: ‘My motivation for applying was that, in the East, there was a lot to be done in building up enthusiasm and channelling vision. Over 3½ years, we’ve come a long way as a team. And I thought that, if this can be done in the regions, it can be done nationally. I am most proud of having gathered together a team that, by nature, was perhaps quite conservative, and proving that you can progress and yet still maintain tradition. When I got the job, they were the first to say well done, which is typical of Alliance spirit.

I don’t think they [the CA] set out to appoint a younger person, but I think we can all see that a younger, vibrant image will keep driving us forward.’ If repeal is achieved, the job of maintaining the CA’s focus and purpose as more than a field-sports organisation will fall to Mrs Barnard. ‘I see it the other way round,’ she res-ponds. ‘I think it will prove our credentials, that we can deliver under pressure in fields where other organisations would fear to tread.’

She points out that the CA is ‘a broad church’ that campaigns on issues such as post-office closures, use of lead shot, local food, broadband, farming and coastal access. Educational projects include fishing and falconry for schools and Countryside Investigators, a scheme in which primary-school children follow a day in the life of someone such as a beekeeper or thatcher.

She intends to maintain dialogue with other countryside organisations and, on the well-publicised subject of the CA’s strained relationship with the RSPB over raptors, says: ‘There are areas where we have felt we don’t have common ground with the RSPB, but our main aim is to protect the environment in which our members have to live and work.’

She has health and safety in her sights-‘we would welcome a revisitation of the laws, because that would make our charitable work easier and help teachers get children outside’-and adds: ‘We scrutinise any law that affects our members. Our aim is to protect the countryside for those who want to use it. The fight goes far beyond hunting.’

Newcomers’ Hunting Week takes place on October 16-23 (