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More than 250 hunts set to meet for Boxing Day event

Members of the West Raynham hunt gather for the 2016 Boxing day hunt in West Norfolk. Credit: PA

More than 250 hunts are set to meet for their annual Boxing Day event today.

Hunting is now younger and more diverse than it has ever been, with a survey of registered hunts showing more women and young people taking part in legal hunts such as "trail" hunting than 10 years ago, the Countryside Alliance said.

But polling for the League Against Cruel Sports showed continued widespread opposition to repealing the Hunting Act, which came into force in 2005 and outlawed the hunting of animals including foxes and deer with dogs.

Baroness Ann Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance, said the hunting ban "has little to do with animals or their welfare", adding the anti-hunting lobby is about a "hatred of people".

The Avon Vale Hunt meet in the village of Lacock in Wiltshire for the annual Boxing Day hunt. Credit: PA

Hunting returned to the headlines during the snap general election, when Prime Minister Theresa May promised a free vote on repealing the ban to the consternation of campaigners, but failed to win a parliamentary majority.

And members of the National Trust narrowly voted against a bid to prevent trail hunting on the organisation's land, proposed amid concerns the practice was allowing illegal hunting of foxes and other animals.

On Sunday it was reported that Mrs May will abandon her Conservative general election manifesto pledge to give MPs a free vote on whether to overturn the fox hunting ban.

According to the Sunday Times, the Prime Minister will announce plans in early 2018 to permanently drop the commitment to a House of Commons vote, in a move which would risk infuriating rural Tories.

A Downing Street source described the report as "pure speculation", but reiterated the Government's position: "There is no vote that could change the current policy on fox hunting scheduled in this session of Parliament", which ends in 2019.

the Quorn Hunt Boxing Day meet at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough in 2015. Credit: PA

Baroness Mallalieu wrote in the Telegraph: "There can be no logical justification for such a ridiculous law, so what was the real motivation for the ban?

"If that was not already obvious, the admission of one MP, as soon as the law was passed, that it was "class war", and the subsequent continuing campaigns against hunts that are no longer hunting foxes, can leave only one conclusion.

"The anti-hunting movement is not really about the welfare of animals, it is about a hatred of people, and so it continues its obsessive pursuit of hunts."

The National Trust has brought in new measures for licensing legal hunts on its land, including forbidding laying fox-based scents which can lead to foxes being accidentally hunted.

The Countryside Alliance said a survey of hunts found 70% of hunts had more women hunting and 54% had more young people than they did 10 years ago.

More than 94% of hunts had members in every age category, while three-quarters of hunts (74%) had at least one female master of foxhounds, the organisation said.

Countryside Alliance's head of hunting Polly Portwin said: "Hunting has always been the most accessible of activities and these figures show exactly how diverse it is.

"There is certainly more equality in the hunting field than in most walks of life.

"Many hunts now have more female subscribers than men and it is wonderful to see new generations taking up hunting.

"The future of hunting is secure when so many young people are joining the hunting field."

A survey of 2,003 people by Ipsos MORI for the League Against Cruel Sports found that 85% did not think fox hunting should be made legal again, while opposition to legalising deer hunting stood at 87%, and hare hunting and coursing at 90%.

Opposition to legalising fox hunting had risen from 73% in 2008 to 85% this year, the animal welfare organisation said.

Director of policy, communications and campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports Chris Luffingham criticised the portrayal of Boxing Day hunts as a "celebration of a great tradition with huge public support".

And he said: "With 85% of the public saying they do not want fox hunting made legal again, there has never been a better time to strengthen the Hunting Act and bring an end to the illegal persecution of wildlife still going on under the guise of 'trail' hunting."