AROUND a quarter of a million people are again expected to support hunts hosting meets in town squares and on village greens on Boxing Day.
The majority of those showing their support will turn out on foot and a large percentage of the vast crowds might only attend this one meet a season, but it is still a part of their festivities. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without wrapping up to line the streets and cheer as hounds and horses leave the local meet.
Boxing Day meets are always magical and are an event not to be missed if given the opportunity. Tiny tots on their fluffy ponies adorned with tinsel will melt even the coldest of hearts, while the excitement in the voices of older children can be heard relaying details of the contents of their Christmas stockings.
Brand new items of clothing often get a first airing, pockets are stuffed with chocolates and there are always a few mounted first-timers looking apprehensive about what lies ahead.
In Yorkshire, where hunting remains an integral part of rural life for many, around 25 packs of foxhounds, beagles and harriers will be greeted by crowds ranging from a few dozen to several thousands, demonstrating the importance of hunting activities to the rural community. Support for hunting in the county remains robust, with many new people taking up hunting each year and families continuing to embrace an activity which remains open and accessible to everyone.
Had the election result a fortnight ago been very different, with the country now being run by a Labour government, we could have been facing headlines saying “Is this the last Boxing Day meet ever?” Similar to those we saw when the Hunting Act was passed in November 2004. Thankfully, for now at least, Labour’s pledge to “strengthen the Hunting Act” will not be given the opportunity to become reality and we can enjoy this Boxing Day meet safe in the knowledge that it certainly won’t be the last. Following the election, anti-hunting pressure groups were left licking their wounds having failed to realise that the majority of voters want a Government that will focus on issues that really matter to them, not on an obsessive animal rights agenda. Prior to the 2017 election and again in July this year, when working with research firm ORB International, the Countryside Alliance asked rural voters to identify three issues that would affect their vote. Not surprisingly, fox hunting was not of any significance.
Instead, research showed that when it comes to environmental issues, voters are clearly much more worried about climate change, and the effects of plastics and pollution on the environment, than they are about niche animal rights issues like hunting. People ranked hunting well below wind farms, green belt development, mobile phone connectivity and HS2.
For too long the environmental agenda has been used as a cover to promote a political animal rights agenda. When the Hunting Act 2004 was passed it had little to do with animals or their welfare. The chairman of a government inquiry into hunting with dogs at the time stated very clearly that hunting was not cruel, and it remains perfectly legal today to shoot a fox, trap a fox or snare a fox. Research carried out since the laws on hunting changed, show there is a big drop in the UK’s fox population so the one thing we can be absolutely certain of is that the fox is no better off as a result of the ban.
We welcome news that the Conservative Party has outlined plans in their manifesto to make trespass a criminal offence which could mean an end to hunt saboteurs disrupting legal hunting activities. Under current legislation, the police are restricted in terms of the level of intervention that they have, leaving many feeling unprotected from saboteurs. Being confronted by a hunt saboteur can be a frightening experience so the Conservative Party’s plans to change trespass from a civil offence to a criminal one would be a big step in curtailing the activities of hunt saboteurs.
Meanwhile, aside from the huge crowds expected at meets on Boxing Day, Yorkshire residents will descend upon Wetherby Racecourse for National Hunt racing and thousands more will be enjoying a day carrying a gun with a gundog by their side on their annual Boxing Day shoot. None of these activities would have been immune to threats under a Labour government but for the foreseeable future they will continue to be enjoyed by us all.
Polly Portwin is head of hunting at the Countryside Alliance.