The biggest hunt operating near Bristol has announced it won’t be holding its traditional Boxing Day meet in the centre of Thornbury this year.
The Berkeley Hunt said it would not be meeting in the high street of the South Gloucestershire town because of coronavirus restrictions and the expectation that such a meet would attract large crowds, as it has done every year for more than a century.
Instead, the hunt say they will still try to meet on Boxing Day, but it will be ‘behind closed doors’, and away from the centre of town.
The Berkeley Hunt has met in the middle of Thornbury on Boxing Day in a tradition going back to the 19th century, like many other hunts in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset, who hold a traditional meet in their local towns on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day.
Back in February 2019, three thousand people signed a petition organised by anti-hunt campaigners, calling on the town council there to ban the gathering, but the Berkeley Hunt said they still intended to carry on with the tradition.
The hunt said it has been conducting ‘trail hunting’ since the 2005 hunting ban.
A statement from the hunt said they looked forward to returning to Thornbury in 2021.
“Due to the impact of coronavirus, the Berkeley Hunt would like to let supporters and residents know that they will not be able to conduct their usual annual Boxing Day meet at Thornbury but look forward to returning in 2021,” a spokesperson said.
“We have taken this step to comply with legislation regarding large gatherings but primarily out of respect for local people.
“We genuinely value the tremendous support offered by residents of Thornbury and the wider area over many years. The wellbeing of our local communities will always be our priority,” he added.
A spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance said Boxing Day hunts would still go ahead, but away from the traditional places that were chosen to allow lots of people to gather to watch.
“Subject to government guidance, trail hunting will still take place on Boxing Day, but like so many other leisure and sporting events, these will sadly have to take place behind closed doors,” explained a spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance.
“Over a quarter of a million people usually support Boxing Day meets each year so we appreciate that seeing the hounds and watching the spectacle of the meet is often one of the highlights of the annual festive activities for so many in the local area,” he added.
“The Berkeley Hunt is disappointed that their Boxing Day meet will not go ahead at the normal location and will follow a different format this year due to coronavirus restrictions, but is very much looking forward to welcoming large numbers of supporters back again in 2021,” he added.