Foxhunting with hounds may have been banned since February 2005 but that didn't stop more than 300,000 people - a record turnout - to enjoy the annual Boxing Day (26th December) hunts. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that the reason why record crowds turned out to watch the hunts yesterday was because the sport is more popular with the people now that hunting with hounds has been outlawed.
314 foxhunts took place across Britain yesterday.
Although fox hunting with a pack of hounds to kill foxes is now banned (these dogs rip the poor creatures to shreds), foxhunting is still legal. Legal hunting activity includes, among other things:
*Trail hunting (the hounds following a man-laid scent)
*Rabbit and rat hunting
*Using no more than two dogs to flush out a fox from cover to be shot (which is much more humane than being ripped to pieces by dogs)
But it's still clear that many huntsmen are ignoring the ban on hounds and are still using them to kill foxes.
Hunters defy the ban with record turnout
By KIRSTY WALKER 26th December 2006
Boxing Day hunt: Organisers claim more than 300,000 braved the cold to enjoy their favourite pastime
Record numbers of hunt supporters gathered at Boxing Day events across the country in defiance of Labour's ban on hunting with hounds.
Organisers claimed that hunting was more popular than ever and that more than 300,000 braved the cold to enjoy their favourite pastime.
The Countryside Alliance said that the record turnout proved the two-year ban on the blood sport was irrelevant and called for the law to be changed.
According to the organisation, a total of 314 UK hunts took place on what is traditionally the busiest day in the hunting calendar.
Opponents had hoped that interest in the sport would dwindle after Labour introduced a ban on hunting with dogs in February 2005.
But the enthusiastic turn-out suggested the opposite - with more than half of all hunts reporting an increase in membership in the past two years.
To date, there has been only one successful prosecution - and that was brought privately - and critics claim the law has become a farce.
MPs spent more than 700 hours debating the controversial issue in Parliament at enormous cost to the taxpayer.
But hunt supporters say they have been allowed to act within the law by taking advantage of loopholes in the legislation to pursue their hobby.
But animal rights campaigners claim that foxes are still being hunted with packs of hounds and that the police lack either the will or the means to enforce it.
Countryside Alliance spokeswoman Charlotte Fiander said: "We think we've had a record turnout this year.
We were expecting a big turnout as there is a lot of support for hunting across the country.
"Everyone is still going out to show their support - this ban just isn't working.
"We are seeing people who have never hunted before going out and that is certainly boosting the numbers. It just shows that this law needs to be changed."
More than 2,000 people turned out at the Beaufort Hunt in Gloucestershire, where the Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal Family have enjoyed hunting.
The Prince and his sons William and Harry have previously ridden with the hunt, which is the nearest to his Highgrove Estate, but no royals attended.
Jo Aldridge, spokeswoman for the Beaufort Hunt, claimed that more foxes were being killed since the ban as huntsmen and women are legally allowed to shoot the animals if they are flushed out by no more than two dogs.
She said: "There were more than 2,000 attending the hunt today, with around 150 of those on horseback. The hunt was extremely well attended - it took us by surprise to some extent.
"The ban has not affected the popularity of hunt at all, in fact we seem to be being supported in greater numbers than ever, so the ban hasn't worked from that viewpoint.
"Foxes are still being killed by the gun, probably in greater numbers than when they would be killed via the hunt."
More than 2,000 supporters attended the Worcester Hunt to the Raven Hotel in Droitwich.
Joint Master David Palmer said: "The crowds were as large as we have ever known them. Most are people who we might not see for the rest of the year, but who come out on Boxing Day to show their support for the hunt."
Two hundred people gathered at the Murray Arms, Gatehouse of Fleet, to support the Dumfriesshire and Stewartry hunt, which re-formed this year and was meeting for the first Boxing Day since 2002.
Chairman Jamie Blackett said: "It's wonderful to be out with the Dumfriesshire and Stewartry on Boxing Day again. The support here today shows exactly why we had to re-start the hunt and why I'm confident that we will be out for many years to come."
The Vale of Aylesbury with Garth and South Berks had 3,000 at their meet near Berkhamsted in Buckinghamshire.
Huntsman Gerald Sumner said: "Support like this so close to London shows that hunting isn't some sort of weird rural tradition that is dying out.
"Hunting is more popular in the South East of England than it has ever been."
Countryside Alliance chief executive, Simon Hart, who joined a crowd of 700 on the South Pembrokeshire Hunt, said: "This is the second Boxing Day since the Hunting Act came into force.
"Hunting has shown that it will not be broken by the ban. We have been able to keep hunts going because the eventual repeal of the Hunting Act is becoming inevitable.
"The Act creates problems for everyone from huntsmen to the police, and the sooner such a bad law is scrapped the better."
Anti-hunt campaign group the League Against Cruel Sports said it did not object to the Boxing Day hunts if they stayed within the law.
A spokeswoman said: "The League do not have a problem with hunts meeting to either drag or trail hunt on Boxing Day, as long as they do not violate the Hunting Act."
The League revealed it has created its own Prosecution Unit to help step up its attempts to crack down on illegal hunting.
It said the unit will use civil and criminal law to control the behaviour of hunters who "believe they are a law unto themselves".
Its launch follows the League's first successful private prosecution against Tony Wright, a huntsman with the Exmoor Foxhounds, in August this year.
Top QCs Lord (Peter) Archer, a former Solicitor General, and Anthony Scrivener, former chairman of the Bar Council, have already been recruited to act as legal advisers to the unit.
Despite the passionate views on both sides of the hunting debate, most of the day passed without incident.
Police arrested one female 'hunt saboteur' for carrying an offensive weapon, which turned out to be a hammer.
Anti-hunt campaigners say huntsmen have been exploiting loopholes in the 2004 Act.
Foxes can still be driven out of hiding by dogs and shot - as long as no more than two hounds are involved.
Another loophole allows birds of prey to pursue foxes. This has led to up to 30 hunts buying such birds.
Drag hunts, where riders and hounds pursue a scented rag, and trail hunts, where they follow a scent trail, are both allowed. If the dogs stumble upon a fox and kill it, that too is permissible under law.
It would be hard to prove a person with hounds had gone out intending to hunt illegally. The numbers of people involved and the large areas of land hunts cover make it hard to detect a crime or identify culprits.
Thousands of people turned out on Boxing Day to show their support for fox hunting, which was banned in Feb 2005
Hunting can still take place but it's now illegal for huntsmen to kill foxes with hounds. Under the ban, dogs can still be used to follow a scent - and foxes can be killed by a bird of prey or shot
Despite the controversy surrounding the event, there was still lots of festive cheer
Countryside groups said more than 200 hunts took place across the country yesterday....
... with young and old turning out to enjoy a day's riding
The League Against Cruel Sports said they were looking out for any illegal activity
But the Countryside Alliance said it was up to the police to enforce the law, not "vigilante pressure groups".