A small number of Boxing Day hunts still went ahead today under stringent Covid rules, despite the tradition being cancelled across large parts of the UK in Tier 4 lockdown.
The annual sporting activity, which usually sees dozens of hunts meet across the country, looked very different this year with reduced participation and town centre parades cancelled.
Spectators normally line the routes in their thousands wearing hats and scarves, but were forced to stay away this year in order to avoid large gatherings.
Riders were also told by the Hunting Office to leave the iconic red coats behind and instead to hunt in tweed or ratcatcher.
A small number of traditional Boxing Day hunts went ahead today under stringent Covid rules. Pictured: Boxing Day Hunt near Husthwaite, North Yorkshire
The annual sporting activity, which usually sees dozens of hunts meet across the country, looked very different this year as spectators were forced to stay. Pictured: A hunt saboteur walks with the dog pack
Many hunts were cancelled in parts of the UK under Tier 4 restrictions but the annual outdoor sporting activity was permitted to continue in areas under lesser restrictions
However 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.
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.
However it drew some criticism for going ahead from Labour who said the decision demonstrated ‘one rule for the Conservatives and their mates, another for everybody else’
Pro-hunting group Countryside Alliance said the tradition took place in a Covid-secure manner, with reduced numbers. Pictured: Members of the West Yorkshire Hunt Saboteurs in Carlton Husthwaite, North Yorkshire
‘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 Hunting Office issued strict guidelines to registered hunts which included social distancing, completing risk assessments and storing participant’s details for track and trace purposes.
In a statement they wrote: ‘There should be no red coats out Hunting (this includes Hunt Staff and the mounted field. Hunts should also consider asking their followers to continue to hunt in tweed or ratcatcher.’
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.
Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales following the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004 which came into force a year later but drag hunting is permitted under the legislation
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.
Pictured: Boxing day hunt 2019 in Bawtry, South Yorkshire. This year, riders were also told by the Hunting Office to leave the iconic red coats behind and instead to hunt in tweed or ratcatcher
‘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.
Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales following the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004 which came into force a year later.
But drag hunting, involves following a scent along a pre-determined route with hounds or beagles to replicate a hunt, is permitted under the legislation.