"The downside of hunt balls and race meets is they can be cliquey," Lucy says.

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A study by Louise Elliott, a land agent for Savills, suggests that the parents of about half of people in farming communities met via Young Farmers and a quarter were introduced by a farming friend.

Young Farmers is still going strong: Anna Skilbeck, 23, a farm conservation adviser, has been a Young Farmers member since she was 14 and met her boyfriend Jamie at a Young Farmers party.

"It was very refreshing to be sat next to two people I didn't know," Charlotte says.

"But that kind of event doesn't happen every month; it takes a lot of effort to arrange." Determined to improve the chances of fresh encounters in the countryside, Lucy Reeves, 30, from Northamptonshire, founded rural matchmaking website Muddy Matches with her sister Emma in 2007.

This year's ball in Sywell, Northamptonshire, on May 22 has a "black tie with a muddy twist" dress code.

Tickets for the event cost from £60 and there will be a live band, three-course meal and casino.As soon as everyone starts to couple up and have children, meeting new people gets harder," she says.Muddy Matches is an online community designed to bring together rural lonely hearts (see below)."Communities are small and people work long hours," she says. "I've gone to so many hunt balls this year, I've become a bit of a joke among my friends."There are amazing men out there who want a wife and children but feel as if they've been sitting on a tractor for the last 10 years and haven't met anyone." Charlotte, however, is socially proactive. But it's rare to be introduced to a new face and even if I am, the likelihood is that they'll know my friends." For many rural communities, the hunt ball is an annual highlight, organised ostensibly to raise money for the local hunt, but presenting locals with a rare opportunity to dress up and swing each other around on the dance floor."A lot of people say it's the rural dating agency," she says.