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Boxing Day hunt in Hadleigh draws massive crowd as debate over law goes on

PUBLISHED: 14:05 26 December 2018

The riders set off from Holbecks Park on Boxing Day morning following the hounds tracking a predetermined scent trail Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSA

The riders set off from Holbecks Park on Boxing Day morning following the hounds tracking a predetermined scent trail Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSA

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Thousands of people turned up at Hadleigh’s annual Boxing Day hunt - as Labour announces plans to tighten up hunting laws to protect wildlife.

Some of the younger participants rode ponies as the group lined up to charge off with the dogs Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSASome of the younger participants rode ponies as the group lined up to charge off with the dogs Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSA

The Essex and Suffolk Hunt met at Holbecks Park amid large crowds, with over 100 horses charging through the Suffolk countryside with hounds.

Hunt organiser James Buckle, speaking before the event, said: “We are here to celebrate with our hounds and hopefully it is going to be a great event.

“We usually see around 1,000 people but it looks very busy already today.

“We have had no protestors this year, but the ones we had last year were quite respectful - they were forming lines and singing song and are entitled to their opinion.”

Molly Richardson, a Hadleigh resident who attended with her 14-week old Dachshund, Rupert, described the hunt as the second biggest event in the town.

She said: “After the Hadleigh Show, this is the biggest crowd that comes out in Hadleigh. It’s more than just ‘the hunt’ - it’s a social event too.”

Running mostly without incident, paramedics were called for a woman in her 60s when a spooked horse knocked over bystanders and stood on her.

Elsewhere in Suffolk, the Easton Harriers hunt also took place, setting off from Saxstead.

Riders of all ages took park, with those involved now following scent trails rather than wild animals Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSARiders of all ages took park, with those involved now following scent trails rather than wild animals Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSA

What are the laws around hunting?

Since the introduction of the 2004 Hunting Act, those participating in hunts have followed predetermined trails marked by scents such as fox urine.

Birds of prey may also be used, which hunt and kill wild animals flushed out during hunts following scent trails.

Many vistors came with pet dogs and friends as part of their Boxing Day traditions Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSAMany vistors came with pet dogs and friends as part of their Boxing Day traditions Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSA

The punishment for intentionally hurting a wild animal as a result of a hunt is currently an unlimited fine.

Over 460 people were prosecuted under the Hunting Act up until 2017.

Why are they making the headlines again?

The hunts are taking place alongside announcements from Labour on Boxing Day calling for tighter restrictions on hunting.

Margarent Collins and little sister Liz brought a horse-drawn carriage to follow the hunt with for the day Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSAMargarent Collins and little sister Liz brought a horse-drawn carriage to follow the hunt with for the day Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSA

The opposition claims that current legislation contains too many loopholes and exceptions that still allow animals to be hunted as part of the sport.

Labour also want to explore the introduction of jail sentences in addition to the unlimited fine that can currently be applied to those convicted of intentionally harming the animal.

What are anti-hunting groups saying?

The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), which campaigns to end the hunting of wild animals, commissioned a survey that found just 16% of rural residents believe hunting reflects countryside values.

Hunt organiser James Buckle spoke before the hunt, thanking the team that have helped put the event together and draw thousands of people to Hadleigh Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSAHunt organiser James Buckle spoke before the hunt, thanking the team that have helped put the event together and draw thousands of people to Hadleigh Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSA

By contrast, the survey found that 91% felt that observing nature did reflect countryside values.

Chris Luffingham, LACS director of campaigns, said: “Modern day countryside values are based around respect for nature, not the abuse of nature for entertainment.

“This polling confirms that we are a nation of animal lovers and that hunting needs to be consigned to history.

“The ‘traditional’ Boxing Day meets of the hunts gloss over the otherwise murky world of animal cruelty in which packs of hounds still literally tear apart their quarry of British wildlife.

A Boxing Day hunt is a traditional practice and social occasion for many rural residents in Suffolk Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSAA Boxing Day hunt is a traditional practice and social occasion for many rural residents in Suffolk Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSA

“The tide is turning and the hunts themselves are now an increasingly isolated and out of touch minority within the countryside.”

What are pro-hunting groups saying?

Some organisations see the calls from Labour as a “narrow animal rights agenda” and believe the changes would be out of touch with the public mood.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “These findings are no surprise when the Labour Party continues to focus on a narrow animal rights agenda, rather than issues that really matter to rural people.

The 2004 Hunting Act mans that participants and their hounds cannot intentionally harm a wild animal in a hunt Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSAThe 2004 Hunting Act mans that participants and their hounds cannot intentionally harm a wild animal in a hunt Picture: VICTORIA PERTUSA

“Labour’s obsessive pursuit of hunting, and now shooting, looks increasingly bizarre to people in the countryside, as well as to those in towns and cities.”

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