Thousands ride out for Boxing Day hunts as campaigners call for tougher laws

Thousands turned out for hunts across the UK on Boxing Day despite calls for tougher laws to safeguard foxes.

Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales following the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004 – which came into force a year later.

However, drag hunting – where hounds are trained to follow an artificial scent – is permitted under the legislation.

More than 80 Boxing Day hunt meets took place, with the majority being held in England, according to the Countryside Alliance.

People gather around the ring of hounds Worcester Lodge during the Beaufort Boxing Day Hunt in Badminton, Glouchestershire. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports said it will continue to lobby MPs to strengthen the Hunting Act and “remove loopholes” which it claims allow hunts to still get away with killing foxes for fun.

The charity’s director of campaigns, Chris Luffingham, said: “There has been a sea change in the way the fox hunting debate is being framed and with the ban now secure, our emphasis has shifted towards the strengthening of the Hunting Act.

“To end fox hunting for good, the Hunting Act needs to be strengthened by removing the loopholes and exemptions being exploited by the fox hunts to cover up their brutal activities.

“The introduction of prison sentences for those convicted of fox hunting would help ensure there is a strong deterrent to prevent the deliberate and widespread chasing and killing of foxes.”

Dozens of Boxing Day hunts are taking place across the UK Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

The Countryside Alliance say the annual event's popularity "shows no sign of waning" and its head of hunting Polly Portwin claims "vast numbers" of supporters gathered in town squares to welcome hounds.

She said Boxing Day meets offer hunts the "perfect opportunity to showcase their legal hunting activities" to the public.

"This has been an incredibly wet season so preparations have been made more difficult than in recent years," she added.

"It is testament to the determination of hunts and the generosity of landowners that so many meets have gone ahead again today to ensure that the thousands of those who turned out to support were not disappointed."

The group says more than 5,000 gathered in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire alone.

A rider and hounds pass over Salisbury Plain during the Tedworth Boxing Day hunt Credit: PA

The charity said it had received 184 reports of suspected illegal fox hunting since the season began in late October.

Luke Pollard MP, shadow environment, food and rural affairs minister, said: “Fox hunting is cruel, unnecessary and unpopular. It should be consigned to the history books.

“The prime minister must ensure his majority is not used to allow the return of fox hunting.

“Labour will use every opportunity to enhance and strengthen the Hunting Act, reviewing penalties to make sure there is an effective deterrent for illegal hunting, and introducing a ‘recklessness’ clause to stop trail hunts being used to kill foxes.”

The Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent Boxing Day Hunt in Edenbridge, Kent. Credit: PA

Queen star Brian May said he will support a humane bloodhound hunt on Boxing Day to highlight the cruelty-free side of recreational hunting.

The guitarist and animal rights campaigner will join the Three Counties Bloodhounds, a “friendly family run pack”, for its annual event in Swansea on Thursday alongside Byron John, the master of the “clean boot” hunt.

The event will see riders on horseback and their team of hounds chasing a human runner instead of a fox.