Get off our land angry Down farmers tell fox hunters
A group of farmers in Co Down have told fox hunters to stay off their land after claims the practice is causing damage to their property and livestock.
The League Against Cruel Sports has said it has joined forces with around 40 farmers to protest at the alleged damage done to their land by the hunters, whom they claim have no permission to use it.
A meeting at the weekend to discuss the issue was attended by the DUP's Jim Wells, the TUV's Henry Reilly and representatives from the Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance Party and SDLP.
There were allegations that some farmers who banned hunts had been subjected to threats and intimidation.
Local landowner Steven McLinn said: "Farmers are fed up with the hunts treating our land as their own.
"We are business people and we can't afford the damage caused by this hobby.
"Alongside the fencing broken down by the horses and the crops trampled on, we've had reports of hounds harassing pregnant ewes, causing them to abort.
"Every lamb costs money but the hunts don't care. Farmers have better things to do than clean up after the mess that is caused by hunters.
"We can manage our land perfectly without them, so it's time they left us alone."
Mr McLinn dismissed the argument that hunts were of benefit to farmers.
"They claim that they are doing us a favour because they are carrying out vermin control.
"That is the most pathetic and lame excuse I've ever heard.
"They come twice a year and kill two or three foxes when there are hundreds of foxes on the land," he added.
Janice Watt of the League Against Cruel Sports said: "It is clear from the meeting that many farmers are frustrated by the way the hunts are acting.
"The majority do not give permission for hunting to take place on their land yet trespass and damage by huntsmen are all too common. Some farmers have told us that after they banned hunts from their land they were threatened and intimidated, which is completely unacceptable.
"Twenty-first century farms have no need for fox hunting.
"Claiming that farmers need their assistance was the last argument available to hunters, but we have now heard that is not true.
"It is time this barbaric, unnecessary bloodsport was banned here."
Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, hunting with dogs is not illegal in Northern Ireland, although animal rights groups are campaigning for a change in the current law.
Ms Watt said a League Against Cruel Sports poll conducted here showed that only 12% of people didn't want fox hunting banned.
"We are asking all candidates in the Assembly elections to pledge to support introducing legislation at Stormont to ban fox and stag hunting," she said.
The league added that it had invited the Ulster Farmers Union, the Countryside Alliance Ireland, the Northern Ireland Master of Hounds, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to attend the meeting - but none of the organisations had accepted.
Alliance's South Down Assembly candidate Patrick Brown said: "It was a very important meeting and I was disappointed that the Ulster Farmers Union and others did not send a representative to put forward their arguments and talk to the local community.
"My party is totally opposed to cruel sports involving animals."
Local Ulster Unionist Assembly candidate Harold McKee said: "An overwhelming number of farmers at the meeting clearly did not want horses and hounds on their land.
"They seem to have had enough of it and the hunters should respect their wishes."
The PSNI was represented at the meeting.
Ms Watt said: "Any farmer who suffers trespass or damage to their farms or livestock by hunters should report it to the police."