As well as being a day for familial gathering, sales shopping, giving to the poor and killing wrens, Boxing Day is traditionally the busiest day in the fox hunting calendar. We went out to the village of Chagford on Dartmoor to observe the spectacle.
The Mid Devon Hunt rides out from the village at around 11am and from mid-morning onwards, the hunt master, master of the foxhounds, huntsman, whippers-in and hunt followers gather in the village square.
A roiling of foxhounds
The 2004 Hunting Act made hunting with dogs a criminal offence. Since the Act was passed, a number of former fox hunts have announced the adoption of drag or ‘trail’ hunting’ in which a runner or a mounted rider lays the scent in advance, or so they say.
I spoke to a spectator who told me that this year’s Chagford Boxing Day Hunt is not a drag hunt, but that the field are in pursuit of a fox. She went on to say ‘It’s extraordinary really. The British are usually so law abiding, but with so many solicitors and JPs (justice of the peace) in the hunt it would be quite difficult to enforce the law’.
Hunt campaigners said that around 250,000 people turned out to the 314 UK hunts taking place on Boxing Day 2007.
The case in favour of hunting with hounds
In its traditional, horse and dog incarnation, the hunting of foxes has been practised in Britain for more than 300 years. People who used to regularly hunt argue that the ban has infringed their civil rights, and many have stated they will defy the ban. They also believe that fox hunting provides a service to farmers who regard the fox as vermin. At its peak, there were over 200 fox hunts in Britain, each of which hunted two or three times per week during the peak November to April season.
Pro-hunt campaigners believe that it is only the ill-informed who regard it as a cruel sport. They state that when following correct procedure, the top dog in the hunting pack is trained to kill the fox quickly and efficiently. Hunters claim that fox hunting is a naturalised part of the ecosystem helping to keep fox populations down while causing minimal suffering to the animals. They also claim that the banning of hunting will have huge cost implications for people living in rural areas undertaking what they perceive as traditional rural activities. The end of hunting could, they say, have devastating implications for the packs of hounds which are not thought to be suitable as pets.
The case for maintaining and furthering the hunting ban
The RSPCA believes that hunting foxes, deer, hares and mink with dogs has “no place in civilised society”. They also show evidence that the hunted animals death is often far from swift and efficient as claimed by the pro-hunting lobby. Even before the government’s ban, The National Trust banned all hunting on the land they own – a significant land area and a bold commitment by the organisation.
In response to the argument that the fox population needs to be managed, those in the anti-hunt camp state that there are alternatives. Culling in a responsible manner removes the need to chase and kill the animal in ceremony. Another alternative for hunt enthusiasts are so-called ‘drag hunts’ where no live quarry is pursued, but dogs and riders can still enjoy the chase element that defines traditional horse and hound hunting.
*This synopsis from youthinformation.com
After the hunt