Christmas is a time defined by traditions that bring family and communities together, however it is during this period that the most controversial sports in Britain are at their most visible. In towns the length and breadth of the country, people will “ride to hounds” or, in any other language, go fox hunting.
The killing of foxes by packs of dogs was banned in 2004 under the Labour government of Tony Blair. Despite this, every Boxing Day, rural communities still gather to watch huntsmen in their tweed and red jackets ride though towns in scenes that appear as if they fell off a placemat in a Victorian dining room. The ban has proven to be unenforceable and as such, foxes continue to be ripped apart by hounds as members of the hunt feign ignorance.
A recent Ipsos MORI poll, commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports, shows that the public appetite for hunting is in rapid decline with 84% of voters against repealing the 2004 Hunting Act and 73% of Conservative voters in favour of maintaining the ban. Public opinion has shifted against blood sports, meaning that their protection will not be high up the agenda of even the most right-leaning of Tory governments. Traditions rely on the participation of the communities in which they take place, and as the population becomes increasingly urbanised in their priorities, it is difficult to see how the events such as the Boxing Day Meet will continue to be a staple of British Christmas.
Across the developed world, our appetite for all blood sports is on the wane. Among the youth, hunting for pleasure is no longer deemed acceptable, whether it is shooting grouse in Scotland, boar hunting in France, or killing a bull in front of an adoring crowd in Madrid. The threat to these traditions does not arise so much from the people who actively protest against them, but rather from the younger generations who show no interest in participating and helping to maintain such facets of national cultures.
The best example of the public’s changing attitude toward these sports can be seen in the case of trophy hunting. There is no longer glory in shooting large “ferocious” animals. The general consensus has conspired against such sports with participants being painted as cowards who kill some of the wonders of our planet for their own sick enjoyment. King Juan Carlos of Spain’s abdication was kickstarted by the furore caused by his shooting of an elephant on a hunting trip to Africa.
Of course, there is an argument that hunting forms a crucial part of conservation efforts around the world. There is a need to help rebalance ecosystems but, as opinion polls continue to show increasing anti-hunting sentiment, it seems almost inevitable that the sporting element of animal population control will eventually disappear. Hopefully this will give way to a more scientific approach that is free from the pomp and circumstance of a bygone era.