Traditional Boxing Day meets will not be taking place in the normal format this year due to the impact of coronavirus.
Hunts are planning - subject to any further or relevant government guidance at the time - to move their hunting activities out of the town squares and market places where they usually congregate to more rural locations instead.
This respectful and responsible approach has been taken collectively by the hunting community to ensure that trail hunting activities can be conducted safely while still complying with the strict protocols enforced by the hunting authorities which make sure this outdoor activity operates in Covid-secure conditions and to prevent any large gatherings forming which may breach government guidelines.
“With over a quarter of a million people supporting Boxing Day meets each year, it’s a great shame that trail hunting - like so many other outdoor activities also operating in accordance with the Covid legislation - is taking place without spectators rather than welcoming large crowds again this Christmas,” explained Polly Portwin, from the Countryside Alliance, the rural campaigning organisation.
“We want to let all the people who usually turn out from towns and cities across the country to watch and enjoy the spectacle know that hounds won’t be in the usual public places this year on Boxing Day but that we look forward to returning in 2021, when hopefully the country will have recovered from the terrible effects of this pandemic which has had such a devastating impact.”
“Those who want to participate are, of course, still welcome providing they comply with each hunt’s strict protocols – including providing details for track and trace purposes and practising social distancing at all times - to ensure the hunt can continue to operate in a Covid-secure manner,” continued Polly Portwin. “Please contact your local hunt secretary who will be able to provide the necessary information to ensure that everyone due to participate pre-registers.”
The Hunting Office has issued strict protocols to every registered hunt with which they must comply on each hunting day. These include conducting risk assessments, completing an Event Delivery Plan, storing every participant’s details for track and trace purposes and complying with many other safety precautions, including social distancing at all times. Hunt supporters are advised that there will be no social gatherings permitted before or after hunting, such as traditional meets.
Mark Hankinson, Director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association said: “Hunts are taking the responsible step of moving their Boxing Day hunting activities away from public spaces this year to ensure they can be conducted in accordance with government guidelines and continue to adhere to the strict protocols that have been put in place by the Hunting Office - and followed - successfully throughout the season so far.”
Although trail hunting is exempt from the “Rule of six” which means that there can be an unlimited number of participants, spectators are not permitted and therefore hunts do not want to encourage large crowds which may breach the legislation. Subject to complying with the appropriate coronavirus restrictions, hunting activities are specifically exempt because they are considered to be a sports gathering, which is classed as “a gathering organised for the purposes for allowing persons who are not elite sportspersons to take part in any sport or other fitness related activity”.