BooK Review: Hunting: A Portrait

A cynic might feel that to publish a handsomely illustrated introduction to hunting this autumn is akin to the Captain of the Titanic launching a commemorative brochure on the eve of his departure from Liverpool. Fortunately, I am not a cynic, and nor, I hope, for the author’s sake, are many others.

A three-year campaign to negotiate a workable licensing system for hunting has been conducted impeccably, with restraint and professionalism, by the leadership of the Countryside Alliance. It has foundered on the weasel words and duplicity of a third-rate and inept Minister who is not in control of his agenda and whose sole political legacy may be to set town against country in England and Wales as never before. But all is far from lost. There are major constitutional issues to do with the status of the Parliament Act and of human rights legislation which are unresolved. There are all sorts of procedural alternatives accompanying the Hunting Bill which the Government can use to save itself from being impaled on the barb of a hugely damaging and divisive political dilemma.

Finally, more and more people, inside and outside politics, are becoming aware that the measure of an unjust law is that it becomes unenforceable. In this context, the continuing resolve, good behaviour and unity of the rural community is vital as never before.

If common-sense prevails, and we have a licensing system with its attendant bureaucracy, hunting will survive for the foreseeable future. I would bet that in those circumstances there will be large numbers of new recruits to the sport. Since we set out 12 years ago to radicalise the countryside and to persuade the tolerant urban majority that a ban would be wrong, there has been unparalleled interest in the reality of hunting. Nobody who wanted an expert, well-written, at times poetic introduction to the subject could do better than buy Anne Holland’s book. She adopts a part-historical, part-geographical approach, enhanced by a brilliant selection of colour pictures. My only carp is that most of the black-and-white photographs look as though they were shot in drizzling rain. But then, given the subject matter, perhaps they were.

This is a handsome Christmas present for anyone, young or old, who loves hunting. I hope my granddaughters, fresh to the experience, will enjoy it. But beyond this season I trust the publisher will have the confidence to keep it in print, for, I hope, the enjoyment of new readers in the years ahead.