COULD fox hunting be making a come back to Bridgwater and West Somerset?
Prime Minister Theresa May surprised many by putting fox hunting back on the agenda, announcing she was in favour of a free vote in parliament and saying she backed the controversial practice.
West Somerset hunts have welcomed the news but there is scepticism over whether she would go through with it, with the chairman of the Dulverton West Foxhounds Supporters Club saying this was just a ploy to get votes and nothing would happen.
"The Tories promised us there would be a vote before the last election and they let us down then. I think this is just a ploy to get farmers and hunting people on side," the chairman said.
"The Hunting Act has never worked and needs to be repealed, nothing is done to control foxes now. It is case of town people trying to tell country people, who have lived on these lands for generations, what to do."
Polls suggest fox hunting remains deeply unpopular nationally, with 84 per cent of the public saying the blood sport should not be made legal again.
UKIP candidate Simon Smedley said he ‘did not have a strong view on it’, but added: “A lot of fox hunting goes on locally and it is not the ‘toffs day out’ that the antis present it as.
“They rarely catch the clever fox anyway and often just bounce around the countryside adding to the wonder of it. I have friends who have had chicken flocks killed by a fox.
“It is an animal that has a bad side that must be controlled to facilitate rural harmony.”
Liberal Democrat Marcus Kravis, said: “Theresa May’s offer of a free vote on hunting is another election tactic to distract people from the important matters that will seriously affect rural communities.
"She is likely to win the election and without a strong opposition she will be able to do whatever she wants with valuable parliamentary time.”
Labour candidate Wes Hinckes and Green Party candidate Kay Powell both spoke out against the practice.
Mr Hinckes said: “Labour is against ‘animal cruelty’. It shouldn’t be allowed under any circumstances and we will fight to maintain the ban on fox hunting.
“Fox hunting is barbaric and belongs in the past. It is a cruel sport just like ‘dog fighting’ which has quite rightly been illegal for over 180 years.”
Green candidate Kay Powell said: “My views are in line with those of the vast majority of the public who, according to a succession of opinion polls, support the ban.
“Hunting foxes with dogs may have had significant support in Exmoor and the Quantocks.
"But, we live in more compassionate times, and there is no place for the return of such cruel traditions.”
Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner said hunting has always been central to Somerset's rural communities.
"There will be a huge amount of support for this commitment in the countryside where people understand that the Hunting Act never had anything to do with foxes, hares or deer but was a misplaced and prejudiced attack on a group within the rural community.
"The Hunting Act continues to cause real problems. Hunts are the subject of constant vindictive allegations by animal rights activists, and employees are often investigated and sometimes prosecuted.
"Very few hunts have been convicted under the Act but the impact on hunt staff is unpleasant and in some cases intolerable. Meanwhile vast amounts of police time is being wasted investigating spurious allegations, and when cases to reach court they can consume huge amounts of resource.
"Hunting has always been central to Somerset's rural communities and hunt staff have been steadfast since the Hunting Act became law, but they deserve better.
"Overturning the ban and allowing properly conducted hunting with dogs to restart would correct an historic injustice and get rid of one of the most illiberal laws passed in modern times.
"At the same time it would relieve the police and courts of a substantial burden and allow hunt staff to carry out their jobs without the constant fear of prosecution."
However Pauline Kidner from Secret World Wildlife Trust in Highbridge believes fox hunting is a blood sport that belongs in the past.
"Many people consider hunting as tradition and I can understand the thrill of riding a course that is unknown with thrills of hedges to jump - but then that can still take place with trail hunting.
"Many years ago it may have been a sport with the fact of a fox going to ground, then he has won and the hunt should move on to find another.
"However now with foxes being dug out when they have gone to ground, holes illegally being blocked, proof of cubs being kept to be thrown to hounds for ‘practice’ and the very fact of quad bikes being used to turn the quarry back in to the hunting pack, hunting is not the same.
"You cannot put the genie back in to the bottle as technology now puts the quarry at a huge disadvantage. It is a blood sport and as such should remain a tradition in the past and plays no part in modern life. In no way should we return to it and as a county that relies so heavily on the tourism trade, such a return to hunting would be disadvantage to a county renowned for its beauty and variety of wildlife."