A rural sport, recently the subject of bitter debate in parliament, was perhaps an unexpected outcome of the huge number of hedges demanded by the enclosure acts.
In 1534 is recorded the first instance of farmers running down foxes with dogs as a method of vermin control; hares were also killed in this manner but as much for food as for the crop damage they did. However by the end of the seventeenth century many dedicated packs are known to have been hunting foxes.
Hedges had made deer hunting, which requires wide open spaces, impossible in this part of the country; so deprived of that sporting pastime, those with the time and means at their disposal now started riding with the fox-hounds, the hedges fortuitously providing a multitude of opportunities to demonstrate equestrian prowess. The hunting tradition was born and in a somewhat different guise still thrives in the midland shires.
Hunting itself has been responsible for a valuable addition to our landscape. When shotguns became sporting weapons landowners started to cull foxes which posed a threat to their pheasant stocks. Hunts retaliated by establishing their own 'coverts' (pronounced 'covers') to give protection to their quarry where shooting was not allowed. These often quite small areas of tightly planted woodland are today an immensely valuable component in the matrix of habitat which is our countryside.