by Countryside Alliance

Tens of thousands of people - either on foot or mounted on horseback - lined streets and market places across the country earlier today (Monday 26th December) as Boxing Day meets returned in all their glory without the restrictions of the two previous years following the pandemic.

It is estimated that over 200 packs of hounds – including foxhounds, beagles, harriers, basset hounds, draghounds and bloodhounds – held their Boxing Day meets outside pubs, in town centres and on other land suitable for safely accommodating the large crowds of people whose enthusiasm for hunting showed no signs of waning more than 17 years since the Hunting Act was passed.

This year, however, hunt organisers are celebrating ‘a return to normality’ on Monday, with over 200 hunts preparing parade routes through high streets up and down the UK as they have done for hundreds of years.  

Polly Portwin, the Countryside Alliance’s Director of the Campaign for Hunting welcomed the return of Boxing Day meets: “Boxing Day meets bring thousands of people together: be it families, friends, neighbours or those within our community who may otherwise be isolated over the festive period. Hunts play an important role in rural life with Boxing Day meets offering the public a chance to watch hunts showcase their hounds, horses and trail hunting activities.

Ms Portwin recognised the benefits that these organised events bring to local businesses which have suffered as a result of the pandemic and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis: “Many of the tens of thousands that attended Boxing Day meets in public places today will have been supporting local cafes, shops and pubs which opened their doors to coincide with the hunt’s presence.”

As has become expected in the Buckinghamshire village of Winslow, a huge crowd turned out to support the meet of the Bicester Hunt with Whaddon Chase which gathered in the market town. Joint-master Ollie Cornock enthused: "Every year we are honoured that thousands of people turn up to greet our hounds in Winslow where there is such a wonderful festive atmosphere."

In Wales, the Llangeinor Pentyrch Hunt was welcomed in the village of Blackmill where the hunt meets on a number of occasions throughout the season. Joint-master Brian Hughes said: “We are so fortunate to enjoy incredible support from the local community throughout the year and we’ve had another fantastic turnout here today, with lots of spectators also supporting the local pubs and businesses during their visit to see the hounds.”

Oliver Dale, joint-master and huntsman of the North Cotswold Hunt which met at Broadway in Worcestershire, the village where the hounds are kennelled, said: “Days like today - where people line the streets of our village to show their support - demonstrate how important hunting still is for the rural community.”

The Cheshire Forest Hunt, which met in Great Budworth for the first time today enjoyed a fabulous reception at this new venue after previously being welcomed in Byley. Joint-master, Liz Gorse, said: "Across the whole festive period we receive more and more support each year and are delighted that our hounds are cherished by so many people.”  

Charlie Shirley-Beavan, joint-master and huntsman of the Tynedale Hunt in Northumberland whose meet is generously hosted by one local business said: “Yet again we experienced incredible support here in Corbridge and are delighted that the additional visitors to the town support the local pubs and businesses during their visit which is so important in the current climate.”

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