Crowds turn out in support of hunts

THOUSANDS of people from across the region turned out in force in support of the traditional Boxing Day hunts.

THOUSANDS of people from across the region turned out in force in support of the traditional Boxing Day hunts.

Young and old wrapped up warm and braved the cold, crisp morning in an effort to dust off the cobwebs of too much festive indulgence.

The success of the hunts on what is traditionally the busiest day in their calendar led to more calls for a review of the controversial Hunting Act.

The 2004 law made hunting with dogs a criminal offence - although exercising hounds, chasing a scent trail and flushing out foxes to be shot are all still legal.

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At Hadleigh, near Ipswich, hundreds of spectators gathered in the field opposite Tinkers Lane to watch the Essex and Suffolk Hunt ride out.

Speaking before he rode off James Todd, whipper-in, said: “It is a fantastic turnout. It is extremely popular and we always get great support from the people of Hadleigh and the surrounding villages.

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“Since the hunting ban was introduced support actually seems to be increasing rather than disappearing. It's extremely encouraging.”

After a wait of around three quarters of an hour the hunt made its way to the High Street before turning off and heading out to the countryside.

Police officers were in attendance in case hunt saboteurs decided to make their presence felt but there was no trouble.

Meanwhile Hawstead Place Farm, near Bury St Edmunds, was packed with people looking to shake off too much Christmas cheer while also showing their support of hunting culture.

Steve and Lisa Plumridge, who took their two young children Emily and Harry to the hunt, predicted that the next 12 months could see the controversial issue back on the agenda if an anticipated general election is called.

Mr Plumridge said: “I think the hunting issue will come to the forefront again if there is an election as it will give people a chance to put their thoughts across again.”

His wife added: “I have come here because I used to go riding a lot and I have been on the hunt itself a couple of times. It is a great chance to meet up with friends and there is a real social feel to the whole morning.”

Leslie Bichan , who lives in Lincolnshire and was visiting friends in Suffolk, said: “Wherever I am on Boxing Day, I will always go to a hunt. I used to hunt myself for about 30 years and it is a nice way to spend the morning as it brings people together.”

Ann-Marie Eagle, who lives in Elmswell, said: “I think so many people come here because it is a tradition and it blows away the cobwebs of Christmas Day. It is something people have always done and will always do.”

The Essex Farmers' And Union Hunt also held its regular meet at Galleywood Common next to the Horse and Groom pub.

The public were out in force to show their support, with more than 1,000 people braving the cold to see the hunt off.

Simon Upton, one of the joint masters of the hunt, said: “I think now there is more support - it has grown since the ban came in.

“People are fed up with being told what they can and can't do with their countryside and this is something which has been done for many, many years.

“They (the hunt) are good conservationists and good keepers of the countryside and they were upset by the ban.”

The riders covered a ten-mile square area and remained out until late afternoon yesterday.

Ken Hand, a professional huntsman, said at the meet that after the current season ends he would be the longest serving professional huntsman in the country having been in the job since 1978.

“Despite the ban we have still got a big crowd here and it shows how popular it is,” he said. “It is a silly ban and it has done nothing to improve the situation for foxes, they are still being shot left, right and centre. We still hunt within the law.”

There were also crowds to welcome the Waveney Harriers hunt, who met in Bungay for the traditional meet.

have been to the Boxing Day meet for the last three years as it sets off from their local pub, the Horse and Groom.

Ms Shaw was pro-hunt and said: “I think it is wonderful - it is tradition and that is how it should be.

“Foxes kill for the sake of killing, it is not for something to eat, it is for the sheer pleasure of it.”

Mr Simmance said: “I like the fact it is traditional but I just don't like the idea of killing the fox at the end of it. I see no purpose in that.

“I fully understand people enjoying riding out across the countryside but can't see what enjoyment there is in killing the fox at the same time.”

But the couple have agreed to disagree on the ban and not let it get in the way of their relationship - they will be marrying on March 1 next year after Ms Shaw surprised her partner with a leap year proposal on February 29 this year.>

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