PLEAS to restore hunting with hounds to parts of Wales were dismissed yesterday, as farmers and hunt supporters gathered yesterday at the nation's second largest agricultural show.
The Farmers Union of Wales and the Country Land and Business Association claimed the much-criticised hunting ban made it impossible to control foxes in forestry and upland areas.
Tomorrow marks six months since the ban came into effect. And James Andrews, Master of South Pembrokeshire Hunt, has warned there are already more foxes to be seen one month ahead of the new hunt season's start.
Hunt supporters are calling on the Welsh Assembly Government to use its powers to change the legislation and allow hunts to use more than two dogs to flush foxes out to guns.
But Nick Ainger, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP, said yesterday, "This is England and Wales legislation and there's no intention to change that. If organisations like the FUW want to make representations on the issue of the numbers of dogs they should make them to Defra. The Assembly does not have the power and we have no intention of giving them the power."
FUW President Gareth Vaughan, however, said he would take the issue to Westminster if necessary.
"We need amendments to the ban to enable sheep farmers to use more than two dogs on open moorland and forestry land," he said. "We are not asking for anything more than the arrangements that exist with game keepers for terrier work to protect their stock. It's simply impossible for people to flush foxes out of thousands of acres of moorland with two dogs."
Even the League Against Cruel Sports has admitted that "pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns". The admission by the organisation's chief executive Douglas Batchelor was discovered in a leaked internal memo.
Wales Rural Affairs Minister Carwyn Jones also admitted the restriction to two dogs for flushing to guns is ineffective for fox control in large areas of Wales.
The FUW and CLA Wales are backing the all-party Parliamentary Middle Way Group's petition to persuade WAG to have the hunting issue devolved.
CLA South Wales regional director Jonathan Andrews said the countryside the public loved so passionately had in many areas been created for shooting, hunting and fishing as well as farming.
And he called on WAG to declare its support for what is also an important driver in the rural economy. Shooting and fishing can be worth millions of pounds to areas of Wales that had little else to generate income.
Mr Andrews said Mr Jones had now conceded that a request would be made to amend the Hunting Act when the Assembly is granted greater devolved powers in the Government of Wales Bill.
"There has to be a form of licensed pest control if livestock are to be protected," said Mr Andrews. "There is very real evidence already of the need to protect livestock in the difficult terrain that covers so much of Wales.
"There are very many upland areas of Wales where it's impossible to keep fox numbers at a manageable level and protect sheep without hunting.
Mr Andrews, fourth in his family to serve as Master of the South Pembrokeshire Hunt, said the hunt would start the new season next month with trail hunting or flushing foxes to guns.
"It's sad that farmers in Wales are not allowed to control foxes on their land to protect their own livelihoods, whereas people with shoots are allowed to protect their game birds," he said.
"Hopefully people will realise before it starts affecting people's livelihoods what effect an unrestricted fox population will have on the countryside.
"Foxes are opportunistic killers and will take whatever they can."