The New Tradition of Foxing Day – the antidote to the Boxing Day Foxhunt

Rebecca Hosking
Tuesday, 17th December 2019

Rebecca Hosking explains her relationship with the local foxhunt and how through decades of battle, a new tradition has been born.

To come up with an antidote to the Boxing Day Foxhunt, even a cultural antidote, you must first understand what it is you are counter-acting. Within the UK there’s a lot of confusion about foxhunting and its ban, and what kind of hunting continues today. To explain this as best I can I’d like to tell our story, and show how we’ve created something positive out of a troubled situation.

Over the decades my family has had a transitional relationship with the hunt.  Pictured below is me attending a Boxing Day foxhunt, dated 1982. I’m the little girl on the white pony. At the time I was strongly encouraged to hunt by my grandmother – a woman whose demeanour meant all in my family found it hard to say no to her.

© R.A.Hosking - Attending the hunt in 1982

But that Boxing Day was 37 years ago and a lot has changed since then.

For a start, 4 years after this photo was taken I found my voice and was strong-willed enough to express my own opinion and stopped hunting.

My grandmother may have loved the hunt but with her passing the next generation of farmer, my father, had views that were the polar opposite. He wrote to the hunt to ask them to stop coming onto our land. But they didn’t respect his wishes and continued to trespass. So he wrote to them again, but still they didn’t heed…

Move the clock forward to 2004 and the passing of the hunting act in England and Wales, banning the chasing of wild mammals with dogs. The following year the law was enforced and our family welcomed it with a sigh of relief – finally we thought no more hounds would crash through our fields.

If only it was that simple…

After the ban was imposed most English and Welsh foxhunts instead of disbanding switched to being ‘trail hunts’. This has caused confusion for many who think trail hunting is the same as drag hunting. They are similar but with one key difference.

Both hunting styles rely on the hounds tracking a scent across country. But in the case of drag hunting a non-animal scent such as aniseed is used, resulting in incredibly few wild animals being killed by the hounds.

But in trail hunting the hounds are still trained to follow an animal-based scent. This has resulted in a high level of reported trail hunts ‘accidently’ chasing and killing live foxes on a frequent basis.

However, according to such bodies as the RSPCA, there is also overwhelming evidence to show many old foxhunts are exploiting the cover of ‘trail hunting’ to blatantly continue to hunt foxes in the old traditional way. In other words since the ban they haven’t changed their methods at all, the ban has just turned the hunts clandestine.

Today we have two hunts that cover our parish. Once out in the fields with nobody much watching neither bothers to pretend to trail hunt. When we see the hounds rushing through our valley there is never any sight of a quad bike in front dragging a bag of scent. Nor is there ever any evidence of  ‘a trail being laid’.

©R.A.Hosking - Hounds in our valley following the scent of the ‘mythical quad’ as it leads them through a tiny hole in the densest of hedges

We call what these hunts chase the ‘mythical quad’. Judging by where it leads the hounds, this mythical quad is able to climb over the thickest hedges, travel through the densest woodlands and even cross the muddiest fields, remarkably leaving no tyre marks or human footprints.

This is down to the ‘mythical quads’ specifications: weighing roughly 13lbs, covered in ginger fur and running on four nibble black paws petrified for their life.

The cold reality of the mythical quad is brought home when you ask the local hunt supporters what they’re actually hunting. The usual reply is ‘It’s only a fox!’

The hunt’s ‘it's only a fox’ dismissal diminishes the status of the fox. Objectifying the hounded individual lets them desensitise themselves from their actions. I’ve seen what happens to a caught fox and I’m under no illusion to the callous brutality inflicted.

©R.A.Hosking - Terrier men walking away after they dug out and shot 2 foxes that the hounds flushed from our land. Note: their terrier still wants to fight

Some of the worst atrocities happen on the ‘dig outs’. A dig out is the result of a fox fleeing the hounds and ‘going to ground’ (running underground) for safety. If discovered, terriers are sent down after. Tearing at the fox’s body the terriers hold the fox in position while the men above begin to dig. When finally retrieved the fox’s fate is dependant on the hunt’s mood that day. The fox can be ‘bolted’ (released back in front of hounds) to be hunted down once more. Otherwise the fox’s death is imminent, either by being shot or thrown to the hounds to be mauled to death.

The men conducting the dig outs are aptly known as ‘the terrier men’. Thirty odd years on from my hunting days the terrier men still accompany the hunt. Their constant presence is another giveaway to the hunt’s true intentions. You don’t need quads heavily tooled up with spades and boxes of ‘hard’ terriers (the ones that inflict pain and damage) if you were truly trailing a bag of scent do you?

© R.A.Hosking - Travelling by quad, the terrier men accompanying the hunt. Earlier this year after their hounds trespassed our land.

The terrier men are the blunt instruments of the hunt, not many like to get their hands mudded and blooded as they do. But there is a subtler yet more prevailing attitude that is shared by all that partake. Many associate hunting with the upper class and wealth but that’s not the case, individuals on all incomes attend the hunt but that’s not to say their views are not entitled.

The entitlement exhibited by the hunt is born out of their anthropocentric mindset. It’s expressed in their archaic notion that the natural world needs to be mastered and dominated. It’s conveyed in lack of empathy, not only to the fox, but also for all else around them, and it’s demonstrated through the behaviour of their hounds.

You send 30 to 40 hounds through a landscape and you’re sending 30 to 40 top predators out there. When the hounds sweep through our valley the hunt fixates solely on the pack’s performance, but we can’t help but notice everything else that’s being startled and stressed.

It’s not just the fox that is flushed out petrified – sheep flock tight in fear, deer rush for cover, rabbits bolt for burrows, birds take to the wing and stop their song. An eerie silence falls across the landscape pierced only by the frenetic yelps and squeals of the hounds ‘in cry’ as they pursue.

The other day I was trying to explain to a friend the sensation we feel when the hounds invade our land. The nearest I can compare it to is walking into your home while it’s being actively burgled. We experience those same raw emotions when witnessing the wildlife reeling, displaced and panicked.

Over the years our repeated polite requests have been ignored, even our direct shouting at them didn’t work. In the end to deter them from our land I resorted to my well-honed camera skills and experience of talking to the national press. That strategy is working and finally the message is slowly getting through. Come here and your illegal actions will be photographed and published.

© R.A.Hosking - 30 to 40 top predators running through our valley this autumn

Yet even after all this our Boxing Days are still marred by the potential of the hunt heading our way.

To protect our wildlife we’ve forgone visiting family at Christmas. Instead we stay at home and come the 26th we wait to see if we have to chase the hounds from our land. It’s a horrible feeling knowing your Christmas is being governed by a practice you detest.

That was until we realised that due to the hunt, other local farmer and grower friends were forced to do the same. And with that came an idea. If us lot are here, instead of feeling individually miserable why not come together to celebrate protecting wildlife?

And so our little tradition started. On 26th we converge at 10.30am, the same time the hunt begins to gather. And as the hunt followers celebrated ‘The Boxing Day Foxhunt Meet’ so we celebrated our antidote ‘The Foxing Day Greet’!

Drinks, silly fox masks, fancy-dress ears and even tails have become an integral part of our day. There’s something wonderful about inducing silly laughter when it’s much needed.

© R.A.Hosking - Settling down to watch out for the hunt 2018

Come 11.30ish and as the hunt sets off so we move into position and work as a team to ensure the hunt doesn’t cross our combined land boundaries.

However, since we’ve been doing this we’ve realised we’re not just about physically deterring the hunt from our land, its much more than that.

I think many would agree that in this country chasing a wild animal to its death with a pack of dogs for entertainment is the epitome of all that is wrong and fragmented between us and the rest of the natural world. As such the fox and its image becomes a symbol of this broken relationship.

By wearing fox ears and masks, we’re stating we’re on the side of the fox but we’re also stating we’re on the side of the rest of British wildlife.

We’re on the side of wildlife because wildlife is on our side. In fact there are no sides, we’re all in it together. The modern division we’ve made between humans and the rest of life isn’t real - it’s only in our minds.

From findings this year it’s now evident one in seven UK species is facing extinction. We desperately need to heal our relationship with the rest of life, and to do this we have to change our narrative. 

So with Foxing Day we’re acknowledging that all of the species surrounding us owe us nothing, yet we owe them everything. They sustain us. It’s wishing them well as they go about their daily lives, and leaving them in peace. In a nutshell – Foxing Day has become a day where we stop, appreciate and peacefully celebrate the wildlife around us. 

Some of our friends loved this idea. Now Foxing Day and the wearing of fox ears/masks is becoming a bit of a thing. They are celebrating it in all sorts of ways – park and woodland walks, listening to bird song, beach strolls, kids’ garden party games, even swimming in the sea!

© C.Turns –Nature walk in the woods

© D.Turner – Taking a dip in the sea

From conversations among us we thought we’d share our story and in doing so we’d like to openly invite you to celebrate Foxing Day and the wildlife that surrounds you this year.

How you peacefully celebrate we’ll let you decide. I’m sure there are other gentle ways we’ve not thought of. But to help, my friend Dougie has kindly created some PDF fox masks for you to print off, cut out and wear if you wish.

Click the following link, then right click the image, choose 'save as' and then print:

On the 26th at 10.30am, the original five of us will meet once more, but this year we’ll give you a cheer and wish you all a very Happy Foxing Day.

© R.A.Hosking - Free printed Foxing Day Mask

Why not share images of your fox mask celebrations using the hashtag #foxingday on Twitter and Instagram.

Useful links

Watch: Living with the land - Building soil with regenerative agriculture

Farming with natures: trees for shelter, animal fodder and wildlife habitats

The 'wild' farm