Hunts count the cost of the weather

The loss of so many days’ hunting during the coldest December for 100 years, compounded by wet and foggy weather this month, has had a deleterious effect on many packs’ finances. Potentially lucrative Christmas meets were cancelled, moorland hunts have been be-fogged and grass countries too soggy to ride over-in Gloucestershire, the Duke of Beaufort’s lost about 20 days over five weeks.

They calculate a loss of £1,500 per week and as much as £2,200 per week in the school holidays. ‘The weather has put all packs-large and small-under financial pressure, especially in the North,’ says Alastair Jackson, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA). Stuart Trousdale, joint-master and huntsman of the Jed Forest in the Scottish borders, comments: ‘We haven’t ridden since November 23, but we’ve been out on motorbikes.’

West Country hunts-more used to milder winters-have been hit harder than most. ‘We’ve lost 10 days’ hunting and it has affected us very badly,’ says Ian Pearse, master of the South Devon, which charges a visitor’s cap of £40. ‘Our kennels are at the bottom of a steep hill and it was so icy that we couldn’t even go out on foot.’ Many are worried that the wintry weather will continue to have a wither-ing effect on hunt coffers long after the snow has melted.

‘This pressure is bound to put the spotlight on the viability of certain hunts. And if hard weather puts them under this sort of strain, some might not be able to continue,’ Mr Jackson warns. ‘They might need to consider restructuring, combining with another hunt or sharing kennels.’ ‘At first, the lack of hunting was dispiriting, but then it became worrying,’ agrees Robin Muir, joint-master of the Chiddingfold, Leconfield & Cowdray. ‘There were mutterings that what 200 years of antis had never achieved-the closure of a pack-perhaps Mother Nature could. But then it thawed and the sun came out, so although no one had gone hunting, no one had gone under.’

Mr Pearse says he’s concerned. ‘Running a hunt is the same as any business; things can change quickly. We started the season in great shape with some good days, record numbers of subscribers and a successful hunt ball. Then, we lost all the hunting days and the point-to-point (which has been postponed) over the Christmas period, which is the most important time of the year for us financially.

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‘I estimate that we’ve lost £15,000 to £18,000. For a hunt such as us, with a turnover of just over £100,000, that’s a lot of money. In days gone by, we used to lose a lot of hunting to hard weather. But, as the winters got milder, we stopped building the possibility of losing days into our budget-so this is quite a shock. We’re not going to see the demise of the hunt, but we’re going to have to do more than usual to raise money.’

Alice Barnard, the Countryside Alliance’s chief executive, says: ‘We are naturally concerned about the impact the weather has had, especi-ally on smaller hunts, who are some of the bravest and keenest campaigners. We can’t control the weather, but we’re focusing our efforts on a brighter future for the hunting community by systematically dismantling the Hunting Act.’ Paula Lester