When it comes it the question of hunting with dogs, there is no such thing as fox hunting. This is because it is illegal to hunt animals with hounds in this country; and in terms of the law, the spectacles of hunts gathering on Boxing Day – at Ledbury, at Upton and all over rural England – they are recreations of what once was, rather than evidence of enduring fox hunting traditions. The hunts must now follow carefully prepared, pre-laid artificial trails.

Why, then, do many people feel upset to see or hear about the hunts gathering?If there is no evidence of law-breaking, surely there can be no complaint? It is also true that many people welcome the spectacle; and make no mistake, it is quite a sight: with the riders in their ‘pink’ or smart dark hunting jackets; with the sipping of punch from stirrup cups and the excited hounds in full bay. Scenes like this have appeared in paintings and on arty plates for generations, and it would be a pity, perhaps, to consign such scenes to the dustbin of history. However, it is the presence of historical precedence that clearly upsets a good many people. In short, a rider dressed up as a fox hunter of old is a symbol of privilege. Especially in the past, and even today, one must have a modicum of wealth to own and keep a horse properly; and sometimes it can seem as if normal, modern social rules are being suspended, as the hunts gallop freely over the landscape or block lanes with horses and scurrying hounds, often to the inconvenience of motorists.

However, resentment is no fair basis for total opposition.

But then comes the occasional reports that hunts kill foxes accidentally. It is feasible that hounds following an artificial trail may go for a fox instead – if one crosses their path.

But surely such incidents can be avoided through planning and improved training for the hounds?

Either way, the occasional report of such incidents does raise the suspicion, rightly on wrongly, that the law is not always being followed to the letter.

Such reports give ammunition to those who want to get rid of the spectacle of hunts gathering. They raise the ire of those who still see hunts as a spectacle of class division, with privilege exalted on horseback, high above the rest of us. However, this fact must be observed: absolutely nobody is above the law.