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Big turnout despite ban on hunting

Large numbers turned out to watch Boxing Day hunts last month for the first time since foxhunting with dogs was banned.

The numbers were said to be up on last year's turnout, which was the last Christmas meet before the Government's Hunting With Dogs Act came into force last February.

The Countryside Alliance said the number of people involved was greater than the 300,000 supporters who attended meets last year, with about 25,000 on horseback.

The League Against Cruel Sports also accepted that the numbers at meets were up on last year.
Many of the 250 hunts which met followed pre-prepared scent trails, which meant a fox could be killed as long as it was not chased "with intent".

About 50 hunts have birds of prey so foxes can be flushed by a pack of hounds to be killed by the bird. Others are using just two hounds to flush out foxes to be shot.

Anti-hunt supporters also turned out with video cameras much in the way they had done before hunting was banned, hoping to catch any signs of cruelty.

Mike Hobday, a spokesman for the league admitted that the police turnout had been "extremely low" but added that he was pleased with the way forces had responded to the new act.

Two weeks ago Tony Wright, the huntsman for the Exmoor Foxhounds, was the first to appear in court for an offence under the new Hunting Act. But he was prosecuted by the league in a private summons, rather than by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Wright pleaded not guilty and the case was adjourned.

Meanwhile the Beaufort Hunt in Gloucestershire, favoured by the Prince of Wales, saw a turnout of about 4,000 supporters, 288 of them on horses.

A survey published last week by the Countryside Alliance found that almost 60 per cent of the 1,004 people surveyed thought that the new act was not working.