BOLTON and Westhoughton Greyhound track is launching a determined battle for survival in the face of new Government legislation.

"We won't go down without a fight," pledged stadium owner Rod Eccles. "We put in a lot of time and effort to fight off the developers and get the track back in action and we are just as determined now."

The stadium, at Marsh Brook Fold on the border of Westhoughton and Hindley, is one of only two independent greyhound tracks in the North West - the other is at Ellesmere Port on the Wirral. But not many years ago most large towns in Lancashire - Bolton, Blackburn, Wigan and Rochdale for instance - had their own "flapping" tracks.

Flapping tracks is the term used to describe independent greyhound racing tracks which are legal and licensed to a local authority.

Four years ago, Rod and his wife Louise, got the Bolton and Westhoughton track up and running after it had been closed for months. Since then they have spent thousands of pounds improving the course and the facilities.

But all their hard work could have been wasted. This April the Animal Welfare Act 2006 comes into force and will be followed by secondary legislation which will radically alter the structure of greyhound racing.

Currently, the National Greyhound Racing Club controls about 30 registered tracks while the number of unregistered tracks has dwindled to about 16. If these flapping tracks are brought under the control of the NGRC or, more likely, a new national registration authority then the increased costs of licence fees, inspections and registration, plus the demand for improved facilities could end with them being wiped out inside a couple of years.

Rod said: "No-one can argue about the need for all the bits and pieces of legislation about animal welfare over the past 100 years being brought up to date with a new Act of Parliament.

"But the NGRC sees this as a great opportunity to sort out the small independent tracks once and for all. One or two might be able to afford to upgrade but most will be forced to close."

Rod has built up a big following at Westhoughton. Enthusiasts from throughout the North West and Yorkshire and from as far away as Anglesey and the Midlands race their dogs there. Rod went on: "The independent tracks get blamed for everything that is wrong with the welfare aspect of greyhound racing. But my supporters, the owners and the trainers, wouldn't bring their dogs here if they thought the track wasn't up to the mark and the facilities weren't top class. Everyone has the interests of their dogs at heart and that's the way it should be.

"The system where each independent track is licensed by the local authority works well," said Mr Eccles, aged 64. "But we wouldn't mind coming under the umbrella of a new national regulatory body, providing, of course, that any extra cost isn't prohibitive."

The Government has set up a Greyhound Working Group to examine all the issues of greyhound racing and welfare and report back to their ministers and officials. The Government's preference is for the industry to be self-regulated, but the independent tracks hope that the NGRC does not get the job.

Mr Eccles explained: "On their own website the NGRC talk about carrying out many processes to ensure greyhound welfare and racing integrity. And then they say that all their efforts are being frustrated by the unregulated sector of the sport. I don't think we can expect much of an even break if they take over."

A meeting after racing at Westhoughton was attended by more than 60 owners, trainers, bookmakers and fans, and a committee was set up to help Mr Eccles and his wife Louise to come up with plans to save the course and the other independent tracks.

"We have quite a few good ideas," he said. "But we need to get all the flapping tracks to pull together."

Mr Eccles' involvement with Westhoughton began more than 20 years ago when he raced his own dogs at the course.

When he heard more than four years ago that it was going to be closed and sold, he decided to put up a fight.

After a few months, and backed by owners and trainers and supporters, he opened Westhoughton for racing. And he has not looked back. "It was a nightmare at first," he recalled.

The Westhoughton track is open Monday, Wednesday or Friday and it's £5 to get in.