Animal health agency called in to decide on future of sheep racing after activists force postponement of Easter event
The Hoo Farm hoo-ha isn’t over yet. Forced to postpone its annual Sheep Grand National this Easter, Hoo Farm Animal Kingdom has announced that experts from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) are to visit later this month to decide on the suitability or otherwise of sheep racing at the Shropshire attraction, which hosts thousands of visitors every year.
“They (the APHA) are going to be doing a review which is going to affect sheep racing nationally,” confirms Will Dorrell, one of the partners at Hoo Farm. “We’re going to be working very closely with them on that. And afterwards we’ll be able to make a decision based on their findings as to whether we start the sheep racing back up.”
The postponement of this year’s Sheep Grand National - a highlight of the venue’s Easter programme that dates back almost 30 years - was announced after a petition was launched by pressure group Lambentations calling for the event to be axed, describing it as “cruel and unnecessary”. Some 52,000 people worldwide signed the online petition, but Hoo Farm were also subjected to a barrage of threats and insults on social media, with Dorrell being labelled “scum”, “evil” and “inhumane”.
"I just got to the point of thinking it wasn’t worth the hassle,” he says. “I’ve got no issue with Lambentations. I’ve no doubt they wouldn’t condone the threats and I appreciate they’re coming from a select number of people and most have no intention of acting on them. Frankly it’s ridiculous. But we’ve got a young family and a bigger business than just this event.”
The campaign has now provoked a backlash, with supporters of Hoo Farm launching their own petitions and asking when the event will be reinstated.
“We’ve had support from all over the world,” says Dorrell. “It’s been utterly phenomenal. Being a family-run business you do take everything to heart, so when we get positive feedback it really does mean a huge amount.
“But this really isn’t a case of us versus them. Ultimately we’re all interested in the same thing, we’re all interested in what’s best for the welfare of the animals, and that’s why we’ve got a review coming from the APHA.
“Obviously we have our very strong opinions on it. There will be some out there who disagree with us, and I respect all opinions. I’ve no problem with anybody else at all. But I think it’s important now that we put all those opinions to one side and listen to the experts. It’s a totally impartial review, it’ll be up to them to make the decision and really we go from there.”
Until the review has been carried out, sheep racing at the venue remains on hold, at the APHA’s request. “Obviously we’re not going to go against them,” Dorrell insists. In the meantime, he’s appealed for both supporters and opponents to “keep things civil”.
“We all have differences of opinion,” he adds, “but it’s important we respect each other.”
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