Traditional Boxing Day meets will not take place in the normal format this year owing to the impact of coronavirus.
Hunts are planning — subject to any further or relevant government guidance at the time — to move their hunting activities away from the public spaces such as town squares and marketplaces where they usually congregate to more rural locations instead.
This responsible approach has been taken collectively by the hunting community to ensure that trail-hunting activities can be conducted safely while still complying with the strict protocols enforced by the hunting authorities which make sure this outdoor activity operates in Covid-secure conditions and to prevent any large gatherings forming which may breach government guidelines.
More than a quarter of a million people usually support Boxing Day meets each year, but, like so many other outdoor activities also operating in accordance with the Covid legislation, this year trail-hunting activities on Boxing Day will be taking place behind closed doors rather than welcoming large crowds again this Christmas.
“Those who want to participate are, of course, still welcome providing they comply with each hunt’s strict protocols — including providing details for track and trace purposes and practising social distancing at all times — to ensure the hunt can continue to operate in a Covid-secure manner,” explained Polly Portwin, from the Countryside Alliance.
“Please contact your local hunt secretary who will be able to provide the necessary information to ensure that everyone due to attend pre-registers.
“It is disappointing that all those who usually turn out from towns and cities as well as from rural areas across the country are unable to enjoy the spectacle, with many only seeing hounds on this one day each year, however we look forward to returning in 2021 when, hopefully, the country will have recovered from the terrible effects of this pandemic which has had such a devastating impact.”
The Hunting Office has issued strict protocols to every registered hunt, with which they must comply on each hunting day.
These include conducting risk assessments, completing an event delivery lan, storing every participant’s details for track and trace purposes and complying with many other safety precautions, including social distancing at all times. Hunt supporters are advised to wear a mask where appropriate and there are no social gatherings permitted before or after hunting such as traditional meets or hunt teas.
Masters of Foxhounds Association director Mark Hankinson said: “Hunts are taking the responsible step of moving their Boxing Day hunting activities away from public spaces this year to ensure they can be conducted in accordance with government guidelines and continue to adhere to the strict protocols that have been put in place by the Hunting Office, and followed, successfully throughout the season so far.”
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Although trail-hunting is exempt from the “rule of six”, which means that there can be an unlimited number of participants, spectators are not permitted, so hunts do not want to encourage large crowds, which may breach the legislation. Subject to complying with the appropriate coronavirus restrictions, hunting activities are specifically exempt because they are considered to be a sports gathering, which is classed as “a gathering organised for the purposes for allowing persons who are not elite sportspersons to take part in any sport or other fitness-related activity”.
The Heythrop’s Boxing Day meet traditionally places in the centre of Chipping Norton and attracts a huge crowd.
Heythrop joint-master and huntsman Charles Frampton said: “The Heythrop hounds have lived in Chipping Norton for well over 100 years and the Boxing Day meet held in the town centre is a fixture of the Christmas calendar for many local people.
“More than 5,000 people joined us last year to show their support for the hunt and hunting. The Boxing Day meet is a tradition that will sadly be missed this year as we all struggle to deal with Covid-19 and all the restrictions that have been put in place to help to contain the virus. Chipping Norton will no doubt look forward to seeing the hunt in 2021 and we will look forward to returning to our beloved home town.”
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