There are few more evocative Christmas scenes than the hunt gathered outside a country pub for the stirrup cup on Boxing Day. As Philip Bowern reports, despite the hunt ban, the tradition goes from strength to strength
It’s a scene that many would have put money on disappearing when the Hunting Act made traditional hunting an offence from February 2005.
Yet on Boxing Day this year, nine years after the last pre-ban Boxing Day meet of December 2004, the Countryside Alliance estimates around 250,000 people will turn out for what has long been the biggest day of the hunting calendar
Some 250 UK hunts – including dozens in the Westcountry – will meet, introduce hounds to mostly delighted children, tip their hats to the assembled crowds and trot off to follow a trail and burn off a good few Christmas calories.
The Alliance is hoping that this will be the last Boxing Day that the Hunting Act remains in full force. They point out that the coalition agreement includes a commitment to a vote on the repeal of the legislation.
In addition Defra has said it will give consideration to a proposal from farmers to amend the law to make it easier to flush and shoot foxes. Livestock owners, particularly in upland areas, believe this amendment is crucial as the lambing season begins.
Speaking ahead of the annual Boxing Day spectacle, head of campaigns at the Alliance, Tim Bonner, said: “We have less than 18 months left in this parliament but the Government is still to make good many of its promises to the countryside – not least the pledge of support to hunting.
“Tackling the failed Hunting Act is a matter of trust between David Cameron, the coalition Government and the countryside. In three-and-a- half years the Government has done nothing to address this illiberal, unjust and divisive law.
“The arguments for repeal or replacement of the ban are unarguable. Proposals to amend the Act backed by science have been brought forward and there is solid support in Parliament. Doing nothing is not an acceptable option.
“Hunting is a totemic issue and even a small improvement to the current situation would go a long way to persuading rural people that the Government is in step with them.”
Many of those members of the public who will make the effort to go along and see off their own local hunt may not be too bothered about any change in the law.
The majority will be enjoying see hounds and horses and hunting pink. To the hunt members – and to many of the farmers and landowners across whose land they hunt – an amendment cannot come soon enough, however.
And that means the anti-hunt campaigners and, in particular, the League Against Cruel Sports will also be re-doubling their efforts to keep the ban in place.
On Thursday, however, the hunts and their supporters will be firmly focussed on having a good day out, maintaining a tradition and spectacle that goes back centuries.
The Cury Foxhounds have announced they will meet at Coinageall Street, Helston; the East Devon at Honiton Cattle Market; the Spooners and West Dartmoor at Bedford Square, Tavistock; and the Tetcott at the Kings Arms, Holsworthy. In Somerset the Mendip Farmers Hunt meets at the Green, Priddy, near Wells, and the Seavington in the Square at Crewkerne. All are expected to meet at 11am.
Other hunts are also expected out and details may be available at the Masters of Foxhounds Association website: http://www.mfha.org.uk/