Gallery/video: Hunt support ‘stronger than ever’ say riders in Suffolk and Essex

SUPPORT for hunting in Suffolk and Essex is at an all-time high, according to a local hunt master.

Joint master of Essex & Suffolk Hunt Liz Reid, who led a group of around 50 riders who set off from Holbecks Park in Hadleigh yesterday morning on a traditional Boxing Day hunt, said in spite of the ban on hunting with dogs that was introduced in 2005, membership was burgeoning and the sport was becoming increasingly popular with young people.

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson – a keen supporter of country sports – has hinted that he is unlikely to bring the issue to the Commons next year in an attempt to repeal the ban because of fears it would not get enough support from MPs.

But Ms Reid told the EADT: “We are getting a lot of support, particularly from younger people, which is very encouraging because they are the future of hunting.

“Membership is strong and support for hunting is stronger than ever so while we understand that it may not be immediate, we are still hopeful that we can get this ban repealed because we believe that it is a bad law that is totally unnecessary.”

A crowd of several hundred turned out to support the Hadleigh hunt and police had to put a traffic order in place around Holbecks Park to cope with the volume of vehicles attending.

Although the Act has outlawed hunting with dogs so most now follow a pre-set trail known as ‘drag’ hunting, it does allow the use of a bird of prey to flush out wild mammals. But the hunt is not allowed to pursue the prey after it has been flushed out, or let its dogs kill the prey.

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Hunt campaigners say enforcing the restrictions wastes police time, but officers attending the Hadleigh event said they were present in a “neutral” capacity to ensure the rights of all parties were upheld.

Sergeant Jon Eaves said: “Essex & Suffolk Hunt uses a bird of prey which tends to be a bit more emotive than the idea of a straightforward drag hunt.

“But the Hadleigh event is a well-attended family and community event and we only very occasionally see hunt monitors or protesters. People have an equal right to protest and to carry out their sport so we are here to make sure the public have confidence that we are doing our best to uphold the law.”

Spectator Sue Attridge, from Kersey, said she supported the hunt because it was traditional, adding: “I don’t like the thought of foxes being killed but at least it is a quick death. This is a very agricultural community and you can see from the number of people who have turned out today that there is a lot of support for hunting in this county.”

The RSPCA, which recently brought a private prosecution against members of the Heythrop Hunt in Oxfordshire with legal costs of around �326,000, is working with wildlife groups to encourage politicians to ensure the Act remains in force.

Last night Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, described the Hunting Act as “a successful and effective piece of wildlife legislation that works” and under which there have been more than 230 convictions.

Mr Duckworth said: “As recent prosecutions such as the Heythrop case make clear, many hunts in England and Wales show a total disregard for the law and for our wildlife. They want the Hunting Act repealed so they can to travel back to a time where hunting wild animals with dogs and ripping them apart was legal.

“The majority of British people – 76% – do not want the clocks turned back to an age of legal cruelty.”

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