HUNT supporters have defended their sport after concerns regarding the traditional New Year's Day meet were raised at a meeting of Uttoxeter Town Council. The Meynell and South Staffordshire Hunt hosts a morning meeting every year on January 1, where participants gather at The Market Place in Uttoxeter town centre before setting off on the hunt which takes place on council-owned land. At Uttoxeter Town Council's meeting on Tuesday, October 8, a member of the public voiced her concerns about the event.
During the public participation, Jane Smith told the council: “I’m here in regards to the Meynell and South Staffordshire New Year morning meet.
“I happened to be there this year and have serious concerns around public safety.
“Riders were given free alcohol and then sped through the crowd after drinking. It’s an accident waiting to happen.
“I’m concerned about bad publicity and that bad PR around this would come back on Uttoxeter as a result.
“I understand this is a county-level issue, but I’m fond of this town. It has so much going for it and such bad PR could adversely impact on Uttoxeter and it’s people.”
Later in the meeting, another councillor raised concerns about the welfare of wild animals in the hunt, saying: “I feel quite strongly that we should be highlighting this (animal welfare concerns) to the organisers, stating that we disapprove of any event that harms wildlife.”
The council concluded that they would write to Staffordshire County Councillor David Brookes and seek his comments on the matter.
Mr Brookes, who was present at the meeting, spoke to the Times and Echo about the worries Jane Smith had about the hunt.
He said: “The hunt is a very well-steered and extremely well-supported event. It’s a highlight of the social calendar.
“As far as claims regarding alcohol is consumed before riding off; it is the part of the tradition of the hunt and to consume a very small measure of spirit before the hunt.
“I welcome the hunt. It adds colour, vibrancy and brings the public into the town centre on a bank holiday.
“When they leave Uttoxeter we follow a pre-laid trail. They don’t set out to do anything illegally and so long may the event continue.
“As a rural country town, these sorts of events are vital. They also have buckets for charities at the event, so the attempt to stop this is churlish.
“A lot of money is raised through this and often goes to vital services.”
In response to the concerns expressed in the town council meeting, Meynell and South Staffordshire Hunt told the Times and Echo: “The hunt has met in Uttoxeter for many years and hundreds of local people gather to see the hounds and horses while enjoying the festivities.
“Although a large number of the followers are directly associated with the hunt, there are a lot of members of the public that attend this annual event.
“The hunt is not responsible for the actions of everybody who happens to be in a public space in Uttoxeter on the day when hounds meet there, but we can assure residents that the hunt does not condone any form of anti-social behaviour.
“Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and other meets held on council-owned land up and down the country have been specifically targeted over the past year following a dedicated campaign by the anti-hunting lobby.
“It is therefore no surprise that this matter has been raised, as it has been in a number of other areas by those attempting to tarnish the reputation of hunts and their supporters.
“Given the large number of wild mammals in the countryside it is inevitable that hounds will leave the trail scent from time to time, but we are very proud of the professionalism of our hunt staff and the training of our hounds.
“The hunt’s legal activities take place, with the landowner’s permission, over a wide area of agricultural land and incidents of this kind are fortunately very rare so the disturbance to wildlife is minimal and certainly no more than is normal in the countryside on a daily basis.”
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