Hunting fans have vowed to press on with traditional Boxing Day meets – but 250,000 supporters will be denied the chance to wave off “Tally-ho!” riders and baying hounds.
Coronavirus curbs mean hunts across the country have advised locals against gathering in rural towns and villages.
Animals welfare campaigners claimed hunting was in crisis.
Fox hunting was outlawed in February 2005 following a vote in Parliament on the 2004 Hunting Act.
But trail hunting, where riders and hounds follow a scent along a pre-determined route, is allowed.
It is meant to replicate a traditional hunt but without a fox being chased, maimed or killed.
But activists claim it is simply cover for hunts to pursue and kill foxes.
Landowners including some councils, the Forestry England and the National Trust have suspended trail hunting on their property while police probe a recent online seminar where supporters discussed trail hunting.
The League Against Cruel Sports claimed 2.3 million acres were now out of bounds to huntsmen and women.
Campaigns director Chris Luffingham said: “As we near what should have been the ceremonial centrepiece of the hunting calendar, hunting is facing a crisis almost entirely of its own making.”
He pointed to a Survation poll showing 69% of people who watched part of the online seminar under investigation believed trail hunting should be banned.
Mr Luffingham said the study showed “trail hunting is not credible as a pastime in the eyes of the general public”.
He added: “Now the public also knows what a sham trail hunting actually is.”
The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance said traditional meets are restricted this year.
It added: “Many hunts across the country will be conducting their Covid-secure hunting activities on Boxing Day and throughout the festive season, but the traditional meets where town and country come together will not be taking place in their normal format this year.
“Like other outdoor sporting activities which continue to take place in accordance with the Government guidance, hunting activities will be starting from rural locations that are less likely to draw the usual crowds to ensure there isn’t any breach of legislation regarding large gatherings.
“With a quarter of a million people annually supporting hunting with hounds on Boxing Day, this much-loved and social event will be going ahead for participants only, without the thousands of spectators who usually line the streets of towns and villages in support of this lawful activity.”
The Alliance’s head of hunting Polly Portwin said: “When the decision was made to move traditional meets away from public areas, the rate of infection of the coronavirus was much-reduced and it was hoped that every hunt would still be able to conduct their activities in the usual way, just without the prolonged and popular gatherings before hunting commenced.
“The situation continues to evolve and these are difficult times for so many people who have lost loved ones, are missing seeing their families and worrying about their businesses.
“Some hunts will not be able to take part in any hunting activities over the festive period, however where people are still able to participate, hunting will provide them with an opportunity to enjoy the countryside in a safe and healthy outdoor environment which benefits both their physical and mental health.”