REUNIFICATION of the country’s oldest hunt with its estranged members is progressing.

Started in 1668 by George Villiers, the Duke of Buckinghamshire, the Bilsdale Hunt has a proud history.

But, in November 2004, a group of its members became unhappy with how it was being run. They split off and formed the Bilsdale Farmers’ Hunt (BFH).

They went out on the same land as the Bilsdale Hunt, with 30-40 riders and, at times, 50 mounted followers.

But local landowners were unhappy with the rift and, in October 2009, a group of them, including Lady Clarissa Collin and the Earl of Mexborough, wrote to both hunts asking for reunification.

Since then, the hunts have been negotiating with a view to becoming one again, a move greatly eased by the fact that the person with whom the BFH was unhappy has moved on.

A major step forward was the appointment of Sheila Ashby from BFH and Nigel Clack from the Bilsdale Hunt as joint masters.

Huntmaster for BFH, Richard Waind, said the problems began when Allan Caine stepped down as master of Bilsdale Hunt.

“Another guy took over the Bilsdale Hunt, as it was then, and he was doing things that shouldn’t have been done, basically.

“When he was challenged about it, due to problems with the constitution, a lot of the hunt supporters got a vote and the local landowners who were against what was happening couldn’t have a vote and were outvoted by the supporters’ club. So they said the hunt wasn’t going over their land anymore.

“They decided if nobody was going over their land, they would form their own hunt – the Bilsdale Farmers’ Hunt.

“That’s how we came into being.

Now the people causing the trouble have moved on so the two hunts are starting to get back together.”

Mr Waind said the possibility of landowners placing restrictions on the hunts due to their unhappiness at the split was “a push in the right direction”.

He said: “The landowners have no objection to hunting or exercising the hounds, they just weren’t so keen on having two packs at a time. I think they wanted it back together as one hunt – as it should be.”

Mr Clack said: “What we are dealing with here is the oldest fox hunt in England.

“My concern was to get people back together again.

“At the end of the day, we have got over 350 years of history here split apart by individuals. The letters from the landowners were stimulated by discussions on both sides. They wanted to let people know that personal views are not as important as 350 years of history.”

Mr Clack said Andrew Osborne, Master of Bedale Hunt, and a member of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, had acted as mediator between the hunts.

“He has been sitting down with both parties and helping us all come to a positive conclusion “That conclusion is: It’s difficult enough with the Government hell bent on trying to stop it.

“We all want to do the same thing, which is to go out and hunt in some beautiful countryside.”

The only barrier remaining is where to house the hounds of both hunts.

The BFH has 20 couples and Bilsdale Hunt 30 couples.

If the hunts came together, there would be too many, so the best would be kept and the extra hounds re-homed with other hunts.

Those remaining need a farm building that is available for a long lease and measuring 60ft by 30ft – about half an acre.

There also needs to be a suitable residential building and exercise yard.

Anyone who can help should contact the Bilsdale Hunt secretary, Jane Wood, on 01845-537025.