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Activists sink teeth into beagling

Independent schools come under attack for encouraging pupils to hunt with dogs. Cherry Canovan reports

Top public schools that allow pupils to take part in "barbarous" blood sports are being targeted by animal rights campaigners.

The League Against Cruel Sports is singling out famous schools including Ampleforth and Marlborough College for letting boys go out hunting with beagles.

It says it will name and shame schools that encourage children to take part in blood sports.

The league attacked Marlborough for letting boys go out killing hares with the Wiltshire school beagle pack.

It also accused the school of being "too ashamed to advertise the barbarous pastime on the list of activities published on its website".

But headteacher Edward Gould said the school was "perfectly open" about beagling, which was listed in its mini-prospectus.

He said: "We are not ashamed of conducting a legal activity. We have done it for years. We live in the country and are a rural school."

Mr Gould said no parent had ever asked the school to ban the activity which was "utterly voluntary".

The league made a similar claim about Ampleforth in Yorkshire, saying that "bloodthirsty activities are kept hidden from parents visiting the college's website".

But a school spokesperson said: "There is no intention to mislead parents.

Far from it. To quote from the Ampleforth College prospectus: 'Country sports are also available in surroundings which are ideally suited to them.

They include shooting over the school's own rough shoot, fishing and the meets of the Old Ampleforth beagles.'"

"We neither conceal participation in any of these sports, nor give undue prominence to activities pursued by relatively few students."

He said the school is deep in the countryside where shooting and other lawful and traditional sports are normal, widely enjoyed and part of the very fabric of rural society.

The school has added new information about beagling, shooting and fishing to its website. The entry on beagling says: "The lead hound kills the hare instantly in its jaws, before the whole pack eats the animal... students can see at first hand how canine predators hunt co-operatively."

A spokeswoman for the league said school blood sports were mainly a feature of "high flying, upper-crust" establishments.

She added: "This isn't a class thing, it's a killing thing - the fact that they are allowing children to kill. But it is worth pointing out that it is not your average comprehensive that is doing it. People can draw their own conclusions."

The Independent Schools Council said beagling was not widespread in its member schools. Spokesman Dick Davison said: "It is so rare that we do not bother to collect information on it."

Beagling may be made illegal under legislation currently making its way through Parliament.

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