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Boxing Day Hunts 'draw hundreds of thousands' nationwide

The Boxing Day Hunt at Raynham Hall in West Norfolk Credit: PA

Boxing Day hunts have drawn hundreds of thousands of spectators, with supporters claiming events were attended by "as many if not more" than ever before.

With "at least 250,000" gathering at some hunts, pro-hunting group the Countryside Alliance said it was a "great turnout".

Yet anti-blood sports charity the League Against Cruel Sports has suggested that opposition to repealing the ban has ridden steadily since it was introduced in 2005.

Chief executive of the Countryside Alliance and former farmer Tim Bonner told the Press Association: "Frankly, even though it is 11 years on after the ban came into force, it is business as usual and (they are) quite determined they are not going to lie down, they are not going to go away.

"We are seeing a huge amount of support from the rural community."

Mr Bonner added: "I think we would be confident saying there were at least 250,000 out supporting the hunts."

The Hunting Act of 2005 forbids the hunting of animals such as foxes with dogs, but many hunts continue operating within the law by training hounds to follow an artificial scent trail, called "drag hunting".

A hound at a Boxing Day Hunt in Norfolk Credit: PA

Since the Act was brought in, 94% of the 423 people successfully prosecuted under the act were for casual hunting or poaching, and had nothing to do with registered hunts, the Countryside Alliance said.

Asked whether he thinks the ban is an attempt to eradicate a British tradition, Mr Bonner said: "You only have to walk into any pub in the countryside - most of them are named after the hunt.

"And not just that, everything from the whips in the House of Commons - that is a hunting phraseology and it is deep in our language and our culture.

"We are quite certain that the hunting act had nothing to do with animal welfare, it was an attack on a group of people and a way of life and purely a prejudicial political act.

"That is one of the reasons that the people who run hunts and who continue to hunt are quite determined that they are not going to go away."

Members of the West Raynham hunt gather for the Boxing day hunt at Raynham Hall Credit: PA

The League Against Cruel Sports said an Ipsos Mori survey of 1,986 people showed 84% of those asked said hunting should not be made legal again.

The group's chief executive Eduardo Goncalves said: "The Boxing Day hunts are portrayed as a glorious pageant taking place in front of a huge number of people who support them, but the truth is very different.

"The fact is 84% of the public do not want fox hunting made legal.

"Just because families might venture out on Boxing Day to see the hunt, stroke the dogs or watch the horses, doesn't mean they support repealing a law to enable the hunt to chase and kill wild animals with their dogs for sport."