It is a sign of the extraordinary times we live in that the news that hunts will be abandoning their traditional Boxing Day meets for low-key out of town hunts comes as no surprise. The determination of the hunting community might see it through conquest, war and famine, but the fourth horseman of the apocalypse, plague, has put a stop to one of the countryside’s most widely enjoyed Christmas celebrations.
The announcement from the Hunting Office on behalf of the hunting associations instructs member hunts to give early notice of the intention to move meets from town centres and village greens. It says, quite rightly, that: “the hunting community needs to take the lead during these extraordinary times and act respectfully and responsibly to help the fight against coronavirus, and to ensure the wellbeing of the local community who are so supportive each and every year”.
Barring even more stringent Covid restrictions than the Government is currently being forced to impose, hunts will at least be able to take place on Boxing Day even without the social side of the festivities. And one thing we can be certain of is that when the Covid virus is under control, hounds will return to meets in town squares and on village greens across the country and thousands will again flock to enjoy the wonderful spectacle.
Many will remember the desperate summer and autumn of 2001 when foot and mouth closed down the countryside even more fully than Covid and hunting did not start at all until December. Farming in one of the worst affected areas, as I was at the time, the mental toll on the countryside, especially the farming community, of both the disease and the isolation it created was only too apparent.
So as the days shorten and restrictions on social activities increase we should be mindful that hunting, and shooting for that matter, are carried out in full compliance with Covid protocols, but we should not be apologetic that they continue where it is safe.
It is vitally important for all of our physical and mental well-being during this strange time that we can continue to participate in sports and physical recreation. For many of us that means a day with hounds, with gun and dog, or with a fishing rod and those activities are every bit as valuable to us as the many other exempted sports are to their participants.
As the Prime Minister announces more local restrictions, we are facing a long, dark winter and without the shafts of light offered by our various distractions and obsessions it would be a much more daunting prospect. Like the hunts which are preparing for a different sort of Boxing Day we all need to be proactive and responsible in order to ensure that we can continue to pursue our passions and lighten the months ahead.
Image by Verity Johnson