Small-scale Boxing Day hunts go ahead despite coronavirus restrictions

Taz Ali, PA
·3-min read

A small number of Boxing Day hunts went ahead despite the tradition being cancelled across large parts of the UK due to Covid-19 restrictions.

While the activity on Saturday saw reduced participation and town centre parades cancelled, it drew some criticism for going ahead at all as millions faced tougher Tier 4 measures in England.

Labour criticised the Government for allowing hunts, saying the decision demonstrated “one rule for the Conservatives and their mates, another for everybody else”.

Pro-hunting group Countryside Alliance said the tradition was suspended in Tier 4 areas, while the number of packs of hounds were reduced and members of the public were forced to stay away from Boxing Day meets, where hunters and spectators gather before or after trail hunting.

Hunt saboteurs photograph a Boxing Day Hunt near Husthwaite, North Yorkshire
Hunt saboteurs photograph a Boxing Day Hunt near Husthwaite, North Yorkshire (Danny Lawson/PA)

Polly Portwin, Countryside Alliance’s head of hunting, said: “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 its hunting activities away from populated areas.

Normally the hunt would take hounds to visit local care homes before hunting commenced, but organisers could not do so this year.

Ralph Richardson, joint-master and huntsman of the Middleton Hunt, said: “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.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner branded the hunts “disgusting”, as large swathes of eastern and south-east England went into the highest level of restrictions on Saturday, limiting household mixing to two people outdoors.

And Luke Pollard, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said: “Families across the country are rightly following Covid restrictions this Christmas.

“But for those whose passion is hunting it is a festive free-for-all, after the Conservatives exempted them from restrictions outside Tier 4.

“Yet again, it’s one rule for the Conservatives and their mates, another for everybody else.

“We need to close the loopholes so fox hunting can be consigned to the history books where it belongs.”

The activity faced backlash after the National Trust, Forestry England, Lake District National Park, United Utilities and Natural Resources Wales suspended licences for trail hunting on their land while police investigate webinars by the governing body The Hunting Office, which animal rights groups say discussed how the activity is a “smokescreen” to allow real hunting of foxes.

Trail hunting is a legal activity which involves following a scent along a pre-determined route with hounds or beagles to replicate a hunt, but animal rights campaigners argue it offers little protection for foxes.