12:00pm Thursday 19th September 2002
PEOPLE from throughout the Vale, the Cotswolds and Warwickshire will be among an anticipated 300,000-plus protesters expected to converge on London this Sunday for the Countryside Alliance's Liberty and Livelihood March.
The marchers believe their way of life is under threat and the march is their way of showing the depth of their disillusion over understanding among the wider community about rural life.
By the beginning of this week, 175,000 marchers nationally had registered to take part, with the numbers expected to rise.
More than 1,000 other organisations - as well as the Countryside Alliance - had said they intended to join the march or support it.
Fleets of coaches - up to 3,000 of them - have been booked, prompting the alliance's chief executive, Richard Burge, to say: "The momentum of support for and pace of registration for the march is now huge."
He added that the focus of the event was "civil liberty", explaining: "We could be seeing the largest single civil liberties demonstration in this country's modern history. What an irony in a country famed for its commitment to tolerance and social justice."
Among those who will be in London to demonstrate will be Jamie Smith, a member of the committee for North Cotswold Hunt, which hunts between Evesham and Moreton.
For him, the threat to the future of hunting in this country was uppermost and had motivated him to participate in the campaign and march.
"For us," he explained: "the major issue at stake is the hunting issue and that, I think, really is what has instigated it this time." He added: "The march has been organised because of the threat to ban hunting."
This year's march follows a similar one in 1998 but Mr Smith, of Ashton-under-Hill, believed support this time round was more widespread. "We have organised twice as much transport as four years ago," he said.
"Last time, we had a half a train; this time, we've booked a whole train from Evesham and we've got 10 coaches going as well.
"In our little patch, we will have 1,000 people we're supplying transport to and about 500 people who will make their own way.
"They feel so strongly that the Government are playing politics with rural issues."
He hoped the march would persuade the Government to rethink its strategy for the future of hunting. "I hope it will focus the Government's attention on the number of law-abiding citizens that would like their backbenchers to reconsider their prejudiced opinion," he said. The march was originally due to take place a year ago but was postponed due to the foot and mouth crisis.
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