The owner of a rent-a-reindeer business said coronavirus restrictions have caused bookings to crash this Christmas.
With 110 reindeer, George Richardson has one of England’s largest herds which he keeps in fields behind his garden centre in the appropriately named Cold Hesledon, County Durham.
At this time of year he would normally be taking bookings from shopping centres and schools for Santa visits and sleigh-pulling, delighting children and adults alike.
But he told the PA news agency: “Bookings are way, way down, perhaps about 95% down this year.
“The usual events that involve crowds of people are just not happening.
“How do you socially distance Santa?
“Our reindeer go all over the place, to schools, to Christmas light switch-ons, parades and shopping centres.
“We have some that go out on long-term hire.
“It’s a six-week, or eight-week if we’re lucky, business and those six or eight weeks keep us sustained for the rest of the year – nobody wants a reindeer in the middle of summer.
“The rest of the year they’re chilling out, having babies, growing their antlers and at Christmas they earn their keep.”
Mr Richardson said he will keep his herd together this winter and hope for a better year in 2021.
“This is a year unlike any other,” he said. “It’s horrendous. Unfortunately we fall outside the scope of any financial help.
“We have been stuck with losing revenue, not having any income but not getting any support either.
“This year is a write-off, luckily we have enough in reserve to get through, so the animals are in no peril.
“It’s a case of crack on, breeding again next summer and being ready for next winter.
“Let’s hope by next winter things have sorted themselves out a little bit.”
Mr Richardson reassured families his reindeer are still available for hire at Covid-safe events, and he has had some interest from schools for this year.
He made headlines in 2013 by driving 3,000 miles to the Arctic Circle and back to County Durham, to bring in fresh blood-lines to his reindeer stock.
Among the two bulls he brought back was a male named Elvis, now kept in a pen with other castrated males.