Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 21 January 2018

Hunting has never been more popular, but are farmers happy?

Forging better relations with landowners is a priority for David Lalor, the new chairman of the Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association

David Lalor (far right) serves as joint-master of the Laois Hunt and is the new chairman of the Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association
David Lalor (far right) serves as joint-master of the Laois Hunt and is the new chairman of the Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association

Siobhán English

The recent spell of dry weather has been welcomed by farmers countrywide, but for the hunting community, warm temperatures are not ideal.

Not only does it result in poor scent, but many hunts have been trying to work around a shortage of land in recent weeks due to the large numbers of livestock still outdoors.

"It is great to see so much livestock still out, but hunt staff really need to be careful where they hunt while the weather is still mild," commented David Lalor.

As the new chairman of the Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association, the Laois native must now oversee some 50 foxhounds packs in Ireland, ensuring that all adhere to the strict protocols that have been in place since the formation of the IMFHA in 1859.

"Hunting in Ireland has never been healthier, especially with so many young people joining, and with the ongoing support of the Department of Agriculture, but it is up to each and every one of us to protect our sport, and for starters we must respect our landowners," he stressed.

As a fellow farmer and a joint-master of the local Laois hunt, as well as chairman of the Hunting Association of Ireland, Mr Lalor has settled into his new role with much ease, and is eagerly looking forward to forming solid relations with his associate hunting enthusiasts who work tirelessly year-round to keep hunting as the most popular field sport in the country today.

There are no fewer than 120 registered hunts in Ireland between foxhounds, harriers and staghounds. Between them, they hunt seven days a week. In addition, there are also countless private foot packs.

These hunts create vast employment within the equestrian industry, from hunt staff to farriers and vets.

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It is estimated that some 300,000 people are involved in field sports in Ireland, and hunting accounts for a large majority of this figure.

Hunting is also the backbone of National Hunt racing, as many top horses begin their careers in the hunting field before running in point-to-points and from there progress on to the racetrack. These point-to-points bring important revenue to hunts.

While some of the bigger packs such as the Galway Blazers remain healthy with steady membership and visitor numbers, others around the country are, however, struggling to make ends' meet, and face an uncertain future.

"We have some great supporters within the hunting community, and the figures are fairly good in the majority, but sadly some of the smaller hunts are struggling to survive and this year alone we have seen several packs fold altogether," Mr Lalor said.

"Point-to-points are a great source of income but they are so expensive to run and are no longer the money-spinner they used to be, despite the fact that hunts do receive grants from Horse Racing Ireland.

"Also hunter trials are suffering due to declining numbers in some parts of the country, and this naturally has a knock-on effect on the hunt's funds."

Mr Lalor notes that some of the smaller packs have now decided to amalgamate, and this includes the West Waterford and United hunts which will share their hunt country for the coming season.

In his new role David Lalor will be working towards a better future for hunting in Ireland, and among his tasks will be to ensure that splits in hunts are no longer permitted.

"In recent years we have seen a number of hunts split, and in some areas there are too many hunts for the land they cover. This is never good for hunting, or relationships with farmers," he said.

The worst scenario is one hunt crossing land on a weekend, and a neighbouring hunt expecting to be allowed to cross the same land a few weeks later. This is disastrous for all concerned.

Furthermore it is no longer deemed acceptable for hunts to send out reminder cards to farmers in advance of meets in the area.

It is up to area managers and hunt staff to ensure that good relationships with farmers are maintained by visiting all the relevant landowners in the run-up, and during to the hunting season.

Politics

In recent weeks the popular Wicklow Hunt is one of which has seen a surprise change in hunt staff, with their long-serving huntsman Philip Lazenby and hunt master Henry Fleming both sadly stepping down from their duties.

However, politics within hunting is not only confined to Ireland and in the coming weeks David Lalor, along with former IMFHA chairman Rupert Macauley and Philip Donnelly of FACE Ireland, will travel to France to discuss all hunting matters during a seminar hosted by the International Union of Hunting with Hounds.

Union representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, France, Belgium, UK and Ireland will gather to tease out any pressing issues in relation to hunting, as well as get an opportunity to experience the hunting of both boar and stag in the country.

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