Boxing Day hunts go ahead a day later amid calls for ban
- Credit: Ella Wilkinson
Boxing Day hunts took place around Suffolk a day later this year amid calls for the practice to be banned on public land.
Due to Boxing Day falling on a Sunday this year - a day when trail hunting does not take place - meets were held instead on Bank Holiday Monday.
Despite some uncertainty and concern around coronavirus and the spread of the omicron variant, some hunts made the decision to go ahead as planned and crowds gathered to see the hounds and riders.
In Hadleigh, the traditional Essex and Suffolk Hunt took place at Holbecks Park on Monday and covered around 20 miles in the surrounding countryside.
The Waveney Harriers Hunt in Bungay also went ahead as planned.
However, the Suffolk Hunt, based in Great Whelnetham, near Bury St Edmunds, did not take place this year due to Covid-19.
Hunting wild mammals with dogs was made illegal in England and Wales in the Hunting Act 2004 but trail hunting remains legal.
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Trail hunting is where a “trail layer” goes out ahead of the hunt, dragging a rag coated in an animal scent. Hunters then cast the hounds to this scent and follow it to the end of the trail.
Hunters say this practice causes no harm to animals but critics argue that it is sometimes used as a front for old-fashioned illegal hunting.
At the National Trust's annual meeting in October, members voted overwhelmingly to ban trail hunting on its land.
This followed the suspension of trail hunting licences in 2020 after a video emerged of a prominent huntsman advising how to use them for covert illegal fox hunts. He was subsequently convicted.
Speaking before the meet on Monday, James Buckle, senior master of the Essex and Suffolk Hunt, said that "people still love the tradition".
"I love watching our hounds working and nothing is more exciting for me than when they find a trail, the lead hound will start with a whimper and then when they all join in the music is just wonderful," he said.
"Even without that, and on a day with little scent, just being out in the countryside on my horse is a real privilege and one that I will never take for granted.
"I always love the day, seeing the support that hunting gets gives encouragement that, despite the changes we have had to make, people still love the tradition."
However, Chris Luffingham, the director of external affairs at the animal rights charity League Against Cruel Sports, called for action.
He said: “It’s time all major landowners permanently banned trail hunting on their land and that the government strengthens the Hunting Act to ensure its loopholes can no longer be exploited.”