ACCORDING to a press release issued by the Countryside Alliance, an estimated 250,000 people would be attending hunts on Boxing Day.
It is important to note that this is not a figure for actual riders but, rather, for people coming along to support their local hunt and of whom, most would end up going home once the sherry drinking pleasantries had finished.
The CA have stated that these are record numbers and claim that they show growing support for hunting since the Hunting Act 2004 took effect.
This figure, and it’s associated claims, seem to have been used and accepted by the mainstream media without question.
So, let me question it on their behalf and for the benefit of Observer readers.
Firstly, the 250,000 figure has to be taken in the context that it was issued prior to Boxing Day and was a projected estimate of attendees rather than a headcount conducted on the day.
So where did this figure come from? What was the method used to calculate it? How and when were the numbers recorded? And where can I get my magic abacus?
This information does not appear on the CA website and my email requests for enlightenment remain unanswered (possibly due to the holidays but I suspect not).
Secondly, this figure would represent an average of 786 supporters at each of the 318 registered UK hunts.
I am not suggesting that support does not increase on Boxing Day, it undoubtedly does.
However, when you consider that the majority of hunts can normally expect to have support in the region of 30 to 40 on the normal Saturday and weekday hunts throughout the season this increase does seem a little exaggerated.
There is a suggestion in some media reports that this figure was support for fox hunts only but with 181 registered packs that would make the figure even more ridiculous.
So, in fairness to the CA, I have included foxhound, staghound, minkhound and harrier packs in my calculations.
The Countryside Alliance’s claim that these are record numbers would also appear to be at odds with the 320,000 figure they issued for Boxing Day 2006.
Now, even without using the mystical calculation methods of the Countryside Alliance I have managed to work out that this years figure is less than it was five years ago.
They really should keep a note of what they have said in the past.
Finally, even if we do accept this figure as a true representation of support it amounts to little more than 2.5 per cent of the rural population and less than 0.5 per cent of the UK population as a whole. That is hardly a ringing endorsement.
Swallow Drive, Battle