How much does it cost to run a hunt? Frank Houghton Brown discovers how much it varies from pack to pack and how funds are generated
Each individual hunt has its own specific and unique infrastructure that has evolved over time to suit the hunt. The requirements of a large four-day-a-week foxhound pack are totally different to those of a two-day-a-week foot pack.
The former might have horse power for two, or even three, members of staff, with two horses each per hunting day, and the stable staff and transport to service that need, a fallen stock collection round with a knacker truck, a fully equipped fencing repair service and a kennelman to help with hounds in kennels. A foot pack that hunts two days a week may just require one employee and a vehicle.
The Warwickshire foxhounds fit into the first category and, according to chairman Sam Butler, their annual running costs are somewhere in the region of £275,000, with five full-time members of staff and 12 horses in work during the busy time of the hunting season.
“The staff costs are 50% of our expenditure,” Sam explains. “About £100,000 of our income is raised through fundraising and the rest through hunting-related income, either subscription, caps or donations.”
Subscribers buy collections of day tickets to hunt, so there are a variety of different computations depending on how many tickets they buy and which days they hunt. The average subscription is about £2,250 a year.
The Warwickshire Beagles, who hunt largely the same country, have a very different arrangement to that of their foxhound counterparts.
“We run on about £10,000 a year,” says joint-master Elle Simpson. “We don’t employ anyone and our main expenditure is the rent of our kennels.”
Of course, having no horses to keep is a huge cost saving, and they hunt only two days a week. They have an amateur huntsman who does it purely for the love of hunting, and volunteers take care of all of the kennel work and hound management.
“We have a weekly rota to manage the day-to-day hound management and bigger groups of people go to the kennels at weekends,” she says.
A subscription to hunt with this beagle pack is a meagre £180 per year, with subs and caps making up three-quarters of the hunt’s income.
“Our main fundraisers are two supper parties a year,” says Elle, “for which all the food is cooked by the hunt committee, so there is very little cost.”
Fundraising to fill the coffers
There are huge differences in both the cost of a subscription with different hunts and their total running expenses, but the one universal theme is the absolute importance of fundraising. Hunting people contribute enormously to their hunt in so many more ways than just paying a subscription.
Ian Garfitt is chairman of the Sinnington in North Yorkshire, a two-day-a-week foxhound pack that lays claim to being the oldest recognised hunt in the land. The cost of a subscription is only £900 per annum.
Ian knows only too well the importance of fundraising in filling the hunt coffers as roughly half of the Sinnington’s total budget of £100,000 is covered in that manner. Like so many hunts, they run a few big events which are massive financial contributors to the hunt’s overall budget. If these fall flat it is a major headache.
“The point-to-point makes between £7,000 and £10,000 on a good year,” Ian says, “and the Country Fayre up to £20,000.”
This year the weather badly affected the point-to-point, and the Country Fayre, scheduled for May 2020, has been abandoned due to coronavirus.
With a kennel-huntsman to look after the hounds and whip-in on hunting days, a groom to look after the horses and some part-time help in the country, the Sinnington is by no means an extravagant hunt. They have the advantage of owning their own kennels, which saves on the rental costs which some hunts have to bear.
The Devon and Somerset Staghounds are a revered institution in the West Country. Their season lasts for nine months, hunting three days a week, and they are heavily reliant on income from the migration of hunting folk to Exmoor during March and April.
“We will take a hit of roughly £45,000 this year,” explains hunt chairman and local farmer Guy Thomas-Everard, “because we finished hunting early and have had to cancel both the end-of-season ball and the point-to-point.”
The running costs of this hunt are usually about £250,000, £180,000 of which is raised from hunting income and the rest from fundraising. The hunt club and the supporters’ club both make valuable financial contributions.
To beat the lockdown they have an online auction planned and are selling books of the hunt’s history by the boatload. Guy doesn’t expect to have to furlough any members of staff, but natural evolution has minimised wages in the stables at this critical time.
“We needed to change and cut costs,” Guy points out. “Now everyone will understand and accept the change. When we are through with this lockdown, I think everyone will be keen to come together as a community and do things together.”
At the other end of the spectrum is the Border hunt in the Cheviots, whose annual costs are in the region of £25,000. Their subscription of £350 covers both quad bikes and horses, with a £70 levy on car followers.
In this thrifty and tight-knit farming community every penny counts, so one of the major sources of income comes from running the bars at local events.
“We set up and ran the bars at two weddings this year and at the Bellingham show,” says hunt chairman and farmer John Scott. “The supporters’ club find us about £10,000 most years.”
The Border has their point-to-point at Hexham racecourse and the Levy Board gives them £5,000 as an incentive to take an unpopular December fixture.
Historically the hounds are kennelled with the incumbent huntsman, who is Thomas Scott, another busy local farmer. The hunt has no employees but does give a small contribution to Thomas’s expenses, as well as sharing the costs of the wagon which he uses on hunting days.
A tough year
Each hunt pays a levy to the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA), which administers hunting, and the Fernie in Leicestershire pay the third-largest contribution, amounting to somewhere near £10,000. With a budget of around £300,000, the Fernie are deemed to be the third richest hunt in the country. They are lucky to have as chairman Joe Cowan, who is a previous master and used to be treasurer of the MFHA.
The Fernie hunts twice a week with the occasional bye-day, but have second horses only on a Saturday. A full subscription is £2,400 and it costs £150 cap money to hunt as a visitor on a Saturday.
“We have three sources of income: hunting income; fundraising, which amounts to about 35% of the total; and the flesh round, which brings in about £40,000 before costs,” says Joe.
With a huntsman, a whipper-in, a fencing man, a countryman and a full-time groom, there is quite a hefty wage bill to pay.
“The wet weather had a significant impact on our hunting income,” Joe explains, “because people just didn’t like hunting in the saturated ground.”
The summer events like the team chase, point-to-point and Harborough Ride have all been cancelled, so funds will be tight this year. The hunt has taken advantage of the government scheme to furlough staff members and cut costs.
Sport will find the way through
There is such a wide variation in costs between different hunts that it some ways they seem incomparable, but they do all share the same difficulties. The wet winter of last season has reduced hunting income and the coronavirus lockdown is putting paid to vital fundraising. Guy Thomas-Everard wisely points out that we all came through intact after the horrors of foot-and-mouth.
Sam Butler says that the Warwickshire are in the process of reviewing their budget, but stresses the need for hunting to step up and meet change.
“People want value for money and to have fun, so we have to find ways to adapt constantly,” he says.
Sam also stresses that people are just as committed to helping their local hunt. “We still have a remarkable depth of support for hunting.”
Ian Garfitt has been pondering the purchase of a new hunt horse. With up to £30,000-worth of hunt fundraising cancelled, nearly a third of the Sinnington’s total budget, he was for a while unsure whether to commit to a £5,000 cost in such uncertain times.
Ian’s wavering didn’t last for long, however, and his positive attitude swayed his decision to buy the horse.
“I want us to be ready to go when we get the all-clear,” he says. “If we keep showing great sport, we will find the money somehow.”
Annual running costs: c. £275,000
Full-time staff: five
Average subscription: c. £2,250
Percentage of income from fundraising: 36%
Annual running costs:
Percentage of income from fundraising: 50%
Annual running costs: c. £25,000
Full-time staff: none
Full subscription: £350
Annual running costs: c. £300,000
Full-time staff: five
Full subscription: £2,400
Percentage of income from fundraising: 35%
Devon and Somerset Staghounds
Annual running costs:
Percentage of income from fundraising: 72%
Annual running costs:
Full-time staff: none
Ref Horse & Hound; 23 April 2020