A HUNTING group are working on foot rather than horseback to keep in contact with a tight unit of basset hounds as they head in pursuit of potential prey.

"To my mind there is no more enthralling picture than a pack of bassets working a cold line across wet plough at walking pace," says Norman Matthews, the founder of Woolaston Bassets.

One of just eight packs of basset hound hunting groups in Great Britain - and the only faction in Gwent - the group was set up last year by husband and wife team Norman and Hannah Matthews.

"We work with bassets to keep the pack in view as they are relatively slow animals, which gives newcomers to our group more of a chance to see the dogs working at relatively close quarters," said Mrs Matthews.

The 45-year-old said the sport attracts people from all different types of background, with 78 members currently onboard.

She said they are always encouraging more people to join the ranks and said the social aspect associated is a huge draw.

"We created a small committee that put forward ideas for social events such as quizzes, barbecues and dinners which brings a community together, ultimately making us feel like a family," she added.

"We head out in a group of at least 20 people every Saturday afternoon, with an age ranging from 9 to 80 which just goes to show that the sport is open to anyone that wants to take part."

Mr Matthews, originally from Ebbw Vale, said hunting had been part of his life since he was 16. He is keen to keep the tradition going.

The 65-year-old said: "Hunting animals has always been a tradition throughout British history and we want to keep that tradition going by hosting regular hunts every weekend.

"When we bring young dogs out on the walks, they start off very immature as they tend to go off trail, but as the years go on, they mature into beautifully well-rounded dogs that stick by your side at all times and that is a bond that cannot be beaten."

The Woolaston Bassets are the first pack of hounds to have been formed since the Hunting Act 2004 was introduced. It requires packs to operate by following the trail of an artificial scent or by one of the other means of exempt hunting.

Mrs Matthews added: "We had to become registered with the Masters of Basset Hounds Association and draft hounds from various packs, however recent hunts has made all that hard work worthwhile.

"Having been in the hunt service, Norman wants to share his knowledge and encourage the younger followers by teaching them how to whip-in and hunt hounds."

After dropping out of school at 16 to become a professional hunter in Northern Ireland, Mr Matthews said that he believes over the years dogs in modern day society have become "too domesticated" and thinks they should be brought up to live by nature.

He added: "I believe that dog’s nowadays are pampered too much, they should live by nature because they thrive outdoors.

"There’s a real stigma around hunting and people tend to think that we get a kick out of it, but that isn’t the case because the only kick we get out of it is seeing the dogs alive, free and happy."

Mrs Matthews, who started hunting at the age of six, said that the basset’s sense of smell for tracking is second only to that of a bloodhound.

"On a hunt, which mainly consists of walking, we very rarely catch anything, but obviously when we do it’s a bonus," she said.

As well as beginning hunting at an early age herself, she decided to take her son Charles to a hunt when he was just 18-months-old. He is still joining hunts today, now at the age of 16.

She said: "Because I was involved in hunting from an early age, it has led to me getting my son involved as hunting for my family is and always has been a way of life.

"It’s great to see children as young as nine joining our walks because it’s good for them to bond with animals as well as getting out and about."

Mrs Matthews says that people who want to get involved on a walk can visit their Facebook page and request to come along on a walk.

Membership to the hunting club costs £50 per year.

For more information visit: www.facebook.com/groups/woolastonbassets.