Boxing Day hunt is a tradition that’s no different to football matches for those who live and work in the countryside
On Boxing Day, around 300 hunts will meet in every corner of the countryside.
From town squares in Cornwall, to working mens’ clubs in South Wales, from stately homes in Leicestershire to village pubs in Cumbria, groups of people from a few dozen to many thousands will come together to celebrate Christmas, their communities and their hunts.
In the countryside, this is no different to the tradition of Boxing Day football matches, and both are much healthier than the more recent post-Christmas habit of going shopping.
Hunting is not a controversial activity among those who live and work in the countryside.
Some like it, some don’t, but the idea that this traditional and slightly odd activity should have become a national political issue is fairly ludicrous wherever you are viewing it from.
It is utterly bizarre that somewhere in the 20th century the eradication of hunts and the 40,000 odd people who follow them became, in the words of a leading Labour politician, ‘totemic to the Labour party’.
The ‘totemic’ ban was passed in 2004, but it had little to do with animals or their welfare.
The Chairman of the Government Inquiry stated very clearly that hunting was not cruel, and it remains perfectly legal to shoot, trap or snare a fox.
And in fact, research has shown a big drop in the UK’s fox population since the ban on hunting came into force.
There can be no logical justification for such a ridiculous law, so what was the real motivation for the ban?
If that was not already obvious, the admission of one MP as soon as the law was passed that it was ‘class war‘ was a bit of a giveaway, as are continuing campaigns against hunts that are no longer hunting foxes.
Many hunts now focus on trail hunting, which simulate fox hunting with an artificial scent laid as a trail.
The fact that balaclava-clad animal rights activists object even to hunting without a fox can leave only one conclusion: the anti-hunting movement is not really about the welfare of animals, but about a hatred of people.
More than 250 registered hunts in England and Wales have enjoyed more than 250,000 days of legal hunting activities since the Hunting Act 2004 came into force, but there have only been 15 successful prosecutions of hunts.
In fact 94% of Hunting Act convictions did not actually involve hunts.
Meanwhile, in the countryside, support for hunting remains undimmed.
Young people continue to take up hunting, more women hunt than men, and hunting is open and accessible.
And hunting remains strong in some of the most marginal of rural communities.
From the West of Devon to the Cumbrian fells, hunts play an important social role in times of challenge and change.
The real shame is that this issue continues to soak up so much energy that could be used for something positive.
If ever there was an example of a pointless political issue this is it.
All the hours of parliamentary debate, the millions of words and endless media scrutiny have achieved exactly nothing.
Yet it seems that the image of huntsman, hounds and countryside repeated endlessly on pub signs, paintings and illustrations remains as totemic as it has ever been.
Tim Bonner is chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, which campaigns to promote and protect the countryside and the rural way of life.