For many there was an abrupt end to the last hunting season, brought on by the incredibly wet conditions and, of course, the arrival of COVID-19. Many hunts also had to cancel point to points and fundraising, and the usual round of summer events have obviously been brought to a complete halt. It is therefore more than usually important that the new season can begin in the autumn, and that at least some social and fundraising activity can happen in the meantime.
The news for hunts is cautiously optimistic with other activities planning an imminent restart. Fishing has already had the go ahead, as have deer management and pest control, and shooting grounds are reopening. Racing is scheduled to restart (behind closed doors) on 1st June if the Government's phased recovery plan can proceed as planned. Other professional sports are also planning to restart in June and phase 3 of the recovery plan, scheduled to start on July 4th, should allow many activities to be carried out, albeit with social distancing restrictions in place.
We hope that hunts will be able to organise hunt rides, hound exercise and other events to help raise funds and bring their communities back together in July, and when the autumn comes to be able to start trail hunting as close to their usual calendar as possible. Of course, that is reliant on the Government, and on hunts being able to give assurance that they can operate within the guidelines to maintain social distancing and any other safety measures that are required. To that end, we are in discussions with our colleagues in the Hunting Office who are developing protocols for hunt events and activity. This may mean we have to adjust and conduct ourselves slightly differently to ensure we comply with the government guidance, but that seems a small price to pay at the moment.
I am sure there is a little part of us all which wonders whether we really should be worrying about hunting in the autumn, or whether we can get out on the river next week, in the midst of the human tragedy that is the COVID crisis. Each of us will have to make that decision for his or her self, but I recently found myself returning to a book written by my Great Uncle, Ian Pitman. Ian was captured before Dunkirk and spent the entire war as a POW. It was while he was incarcerated in Germany that he wrote this book about wildfowling and his adventures around the Scottish coast. His friend Peter Scott provided the illustrations and it was published shortly after the war. In the foreword he describes watching geese migrating from behind the prison wire and how that took him back to Scotland and everything he held dear.
We live through less deadly times, and certainly hope not to be locked up for as long as he was, but we should not shy away from wanting to return to our passions. If we cannot do that, then our sacrifice, like his, would not be worthwhile.