As we return to the restrictions of lockdown life and many are being asked to travel across the country for coronavirus tests, our government spent the weekend ensuring their members and supporters could still enjoy one of their favourite pastimes: grouse hunting and other shooting sports.
Now listed under the exemption guidelines for gatherings of over six people, which includes offices, schools, courts of law, weddings and funerals, hunting and shooting are classified as a sport or organised outdoor activity, and exempt from the new restrictions on social gatherings that became law on Monday 14th September.
It’s not clear whether fox hunting has been included under ‘shooting sports’. Whilst fox hunting is banned under the Hunting Act 2004, stalking or ‘flushing out’ a wild mammal to prevent or reduce serious damage which they would otherwise cause to live stock or property is legal, a loophole which hunt supporters have used since the law was passed. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken openly about his love of fox hunting, enjoying it in a “semi-sexual” way and encouraging illegal hunts to ignore government bans.
Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard shared many people’s anger at the government’s lack of prioritisation:
“Across the country, people are struggling to get COVID-19 tests anywhere near their homes. But the Conservatives are distracted with trying to exempt the bloodsport passions of their big donors from coronavirus regulations. It shows where this government’s priorities really lie. It is clear there’s one rule for the cabinet and their mates and another for the rest of us.”
Hunting groups have also qualified for small business grants in Shropshire, receiving up to £50,000 of tax payers money. Part of a £91m government initiative, if groups qualify for Small Business Rate Relief, they are also eligible for the Small Business Grant.
This week Home Secretary Priti Patel advised that two families should not stop to chat if they bump into each other outdoors, as this would be considered “mingling” and would put the health of others at risk. The government has asked members of the public to call the non-emergency number (111) if they see neighbours holding gatherings of more than six, or flouting other coronavirus guidelines. If found guilty, you can be fined up to £3,200. The guidelines published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirm that those meeting to hunt can do so in groups of up to 30 people with no penalty.
Visit change.org to sign a petition against the exemption ruling.