Passions run high as hundreds gather for Melton New Year Hunt meet
by George Icke
Protestors were out in force again as a large crowd welcomed members of the Quorn Hunt to Melton’s Play Close for the traditional New Year’s Day gathering in the town.
Many applauded the riders and hounds as they arrived at the park along Mucky Lane, which runs down from the borough council offices, in unseasonably pleasant mild winter temperatures on Saturday morning.
But a group of around 30 people, mainly representing the Leicester Animal Rights group, displayed placards and chanted to show their opposition to the event.
Hunting foxes with dogs has been illegal in the UK since 2004 but hunts have continued to ride out on ‘trail hunts’ where the hounds follow the scent of a fox set down by members - if a fox is flushed out it must then be killed by shotgun.
Protestors and saboteurs say hunts have continued to use dogs to kill foxes, however, and there have been many cases of this being proved since the ban came in. They accuse hunters of using trail hunting as ‘a smoke screen’ to continue their illegal activities.
Hunts continue to say they never intentionally go out to kill foxes with their hounds and Melton Mowbray Town Estate has kept up its tradition of allowing its land to be used for hunt members to gather every New Year’s Day, although last year’s event was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic restrictions.
Senior Townwarden, Ian Wilkinson, warmly greeted Quorn Hunt riders as they began arriving in the Play Close at 10.30am and he offered them drinks of port and whisky from the stirrup cup, in line with centuries old traditions.
Some of the objectors shouted that the people of Melton should be ‘disgusted’ that he was their Mayor but he pointed out he represented the town estate and was not the borough’s civic leader.
He said protestors were welcome at the event as long as they behaved and respected everyone there and he dismissed claims that the trail hunt was a smokescreen for hunting with hounds.
A crowd of several hundred was present for the gathering, which was the 39th January 1 meet in the town since it was started by the town estate.
Each year it alternates between the Belvoir, Quorn and Cottesmore Hunts - it was moved from Market Place to the park a few years ago due to persistent frosts and ice making it dangerous for horses and riders.
One of this year’s protestors from the Leicester Animal Rights organisation told the Melton Times she thought foxhunting was ‘barbaric’ and ‘cruel’ because of the way the animal was ripped apart by dogs.
The woman, who declined to give her name, also pointed out that hunt members struggled to control their hounds, which often caused ‘mayhem’ in private gardens and on public roads.
Josephine Lacey, a first year university student, was one of those joining the Quorn Hunt in the field before they set off for a trail hunt in surrounding countryside at around 11.20am.
She told us: “What we do is legal. It’s good fun and great to see everyone out after Covid canceled last year’s traditional meet.”
Josephine attended the meet with her father, Mark, on foot and her 10-year-old horse, Red.
She said it has become something of a tradition within their family that she goes trail hunting on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day every year.
Josephine added: “If protestors do say anything I remain polite but, ultimately, I don’t usually engage as they have already decided we are wrong.”
When the pack of hounds was brought into the park, many people got up close to them, with some petting or kissing the dogs.
One of those was Jamie Thomas, who was with his four and five-year-old sons.
He told the Melton Times that his children were confused by the protestors shouting and chanting at the event and had asked why some had masks over their faces and why they were holding banners.
Mr Thomas said his children enjoyed cuddling the hounds but that some of the shouting by objectors had spoiled their day a little.
As the hunt made off for their trail hunt, there was more applause and cheering from supporters mixed with further loud chanting by protestors.
The Melton Mowbray area has hosted hunts for around 350 years and has been called ‘the cradle of foxhunting’, with the boundaries of The Quorn, Belvoir and Cottesmore Hunts converging on the town.
Members of the royal family have hunted in Melton over the last two centuries, including most recently Prince Charles in the 1980s.