The Covid-secure conduct of hunting activities on Boxing Day remained much the same as they have done all season for those able to participate today, although the number of packs of hounds that were able to access the countryside was much-reduced due to the impact of coronavirus.
With every hunt in the country usually welcoming large crowds on Boxing Day, this year, even where hunting was able to continue, the tens of thousands of supporters who would usually gather in their local towns and villages to greet hounds and enjoy the spectacle of the meet were forced to stay away due to prevent any breach of government legislation.
As in previous seasons, the majority of packs had hoped to be able to go trail hunting on Boxing Day but the plans for a number of hunts were altered with just a few days’ notice after the government’s recent announcement which meant even more areas moved into Tier 4 with effect from 00:01 this morning, 26th December.
Back in October, hunts took the responsible decision to move their Boxing Day and other festive meets away from public areas so they could conduct their activities in more rural and less publicly accessible locations. This was to ensure that there weren’t any breaches of legislation regarding large gatherings which traditionally congregate when hounds and horses meet.
When the decision was made to move away from public locations, the rate of infection was much-reduced and it was hoped that every hunt would still be able to conduct their activities in the usual way, just without the prolonged and popular gatherings before hunting commenced. However, with the tougher tier system now in place with hunting suspended in Tier 4 areas in England, in Alert Level 4 areas in both Wales and Scotland, many hunts took the decision to participate in much smaller-scale events on Boxing Day, such as hound exercise, while continuing to operate with strict Covid-protocols including social distancing.
“This is clearly a very different Boxing Day for hunt supporters, who, like so many others, are feeling the impact of the coronavirus which has had such a devastating impact on people’s health and their livelihoods,” commented Polly Portwin, the Countryside Alliance’s Head of Hunting. “Like other outdoor sporting activities, hunting has been able to continue today in a Covid-secure manner, offering those who have been able to participate an opportunity to enjoy the countryside.”
“We hope that all hunts will be able to meet in villages and town centres again on Boxing Day in 2021 and be able to welcome the tens of thousands of supporters for whom this event is an integral part of their annual festivities.”
The Yorkshire-based Middleton Hunt, which usually hosts two meets on Boxing Day in Malton and in Driffield, moved the location of their hunting activities away from those more populated areas to start from Aldby Park instead. In an ordinary year, the hunt would take their hounds to visit local care homes before hunting commences on Boxing Day, bringing joy to the residents for whom this is a highlight.
“We are fortunate to be able to continue hunting while operating in accordance with strict protocols to ensure the safety of all participants and the local community, but are obviously unable to make our annual visit to the care home residents this year,” explained Ralph Richardson, joint-master and huntsman of the Middleton Hunt. “We know how important this occasion is for them so, when we are able to, we will arrange to take the hounds another day to make up for not being able to visit them today.”
Due to the latest Tier 4 announcements, the Bicester Hunt with Whaddon Chase, whose country includes Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, was forced to cancel their Boxing Day activities.
“Hundreds of supporters usually attend our Boxing Day meet in Winslow so it is obviously very disappointing for everyone that we are unable to be there today, although everyone’s health must be the priority,” said Lucinda Lloyd MFH. “We very much look forward to welcoming large numbers of supporters back again in 2021 when we hope the virus will be under control.”
Photo credit: Will Jones