THE country’s oldest hunt has moved a step closer to a reconciliation with breakaway members after local landowners pleaded for them to reunite.

Formed in 1668 by the Duke of Buckinghamshire, the Bilsdale Hunt covers remote moorland and forests in North Yorkshire and is steeped in history and tradition.

Following an argument over the way the hunt was being run, some members split off in 2004 and formed the Bilsdale Farmers’ Hunt (BFH). Both use the same land, although only the Bilsdale Hunt is registered and officially allowed to use it.

The rift has led landowners to write to both hunts asking for reunification and banning the use of their land by any non-registered hunt.

Representatives of both hunts have been working under mediation to bring the sides back together, although practical issues make it a slow process.

In recent months, members of the BFH have been invited to join the Bilsdale Hunt for free to see if the two groups can still work together.

As the winter weather has led to several cancellations, it was decided at a meeting of the Bilsdale Hunt Supporters’ Group on Wednesday to extend the invitation until May 1 – the end of the hunt season.

At that point, members of the BFH must decide whether to fully sign up to the Bilsdale Hunt and reunite.

Nigel Clack, master of the Bilsdale Hunt, said: “Five years of disagreement is a blip that means nothing in terms of 340 years of history.

“The trial period has been a good chance to bring both sides together and make them see we have a lot in common.

“There are things that could trip us up, but a year ago we were not even talking, so we really have moved forward.”

Richard Waind, the master of the BFH, agreed and said: “I think 99 per cent of the BFH are happy to amalgamate with the Bilsdale Hunt, because the people that caused the original rift have moved on.

“Having the landowners place restrictions on the use of the land was a push in the right direction and now we just need somewhere to house the hounds.”