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Hundreds of people watch Suffolk Boxing Day hunts

PUBLISHED: 16:19 26 December 2017 | UPDATED: 16:30 26 December 2017

Lead rider kicks off Hadleigh's annual Boxing Day hunt. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Lead rider kicks off Hadleigh's annual Boxing Day hunt. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Hundreds of people turned out to see the traditional Boxing Day hunts take place across the Suffolk countryside.

The majority were there to enjoy the historic spectacle but there were also small groups of protestors.

Riders and hounds from the Essex and Suffolk Hunt met at Holbecks Park, in Hadleigh, and made their way through the town centre before returning to the park near the football club.

A younger rider joins this year's hunt. Picture: GREGG BROWNA younger rider joins this year's hunt. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Meanwhile around 300 supporters turned out to see the Suffolk Hunt, which began from Great Whelnetham, near Bury St Edmunds.

At the Hadleigh event, a group of around 20 placard-waving anti-fox hunting campaigners marched through the park chanting with a megaphone before the riders set off.

Anti-fox hunting protestors at Hadleigh. Picture: MICHAEL STEWARDAnti-fox hunting protestors at Hadleigh. Picture: MICHAEL STEWARD

One of the protestors, Bryony Swift, said: “In a civilised society, how is this ethically or morally acceptable?”

The Essex and Suffolk Hunt – which is thought to date back to the 18th-century – was not interrupted by the protest and started as planned around 11.15am.

Riders hurry through Hadleigh to begin the annual Boxing Day hunt. Picture: GREGG BROWNRiders hurry through Hadleigh to begin the annual Boxing Day hunt. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The Hunting Act, passed in 2004, bans the use of dogs to hunt wild mammals in England and Wales, but it does not cover using the animals to flush them out. The hunting parties now follow a pre-laid trail, or the foxes are flushed out from cover to a bird of prey.

James Buckle, master of the Essex and Suffolk Hunt, said prior to the start of the event: “It’s lovely, and there are crowds of people still pouring in. We used to start from the market square but there are too many of us now, but we still go through the town as some people can’t get down here and like to watch.”

Riders head into Hadleigh before taking to the fields in this year's Boxing Day hunt. Picture: GREGG BROWNRiders head into Hadleigh before taking to the fields in this year's Boxing Day hunt. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Gary Tate, Suffolk Hunt secretary, said: “It was a good day, the wind was a bit chilly but we had around 30-40 horses. People love to see the horses and as you go by some houses, they will be waving out of their windows.”

Speaking on reports that Theresa May will desert her general election pledge to give MPs a free vote on whether to overturn the ban, Mr Buckle added: “It’s a ridiculous piece of legislation, which clearly hasn’t worked. She can’t win a vote on Brexit, let alone a vote on fox hunting.

Spectaculars get ready for the Boxing Day hunt. Picture: GREGG BROWNSpectaculars get ready for the Boxing Day hunt. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“I think she should focus on more pressing matters before perhaps coming back to fox hunting.”

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