Support for hunts 'greater than ever'

HUNT supporters insisted backing for their country sport was stronger than ever as they gathered for the first Boxing Day meetings since fox-hunting was outlawed.

HUNT supporters insisted backing for their country sport was stronger than ever as they gathered for the first Boxing Day meetings since fox-hunting was outlawed.

They told of their determination to overturn the “ridiculous” legislation, introduced in February, but said they would continue to hunt with the law in the meantime.

But the anti-hunting lobby said the events proved that people could enjoy their sport with hunting foxes.

Thousands of people across the region turned out to support the traditional festive hunts, the showpiece event of the season.

Liz Mort, eastern region director of the Countryside Alliance, said: “The turn-outs have been very good indeed.

“In a recent survey around 40% of hunts said they had seen a rise in subscriptions and certainly in Suffolk there has been a lot of support.”

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She added: “We still have the Human Rights Act going through and although it will take a long time we are confident that the law will be overturned.

“Until then we will carry on hunting within the law because we are determined to get the legislation changed. It will happen eventually.”

The Essex and Suffolk Foxhounds' hunt at Hadleigh attracted more than 1,000 supporters, proving as popular as ever.

James Buckle, the hunt's senior master, addressed more than 60 horse-riders and supporters, in a field near the town's rugby club.

He said the new legislation was “absolutely ridiculous” but the hunt would not be breaking the law.

“We are working with a trail and we will endeavour to keep to that,” he said.

“We will be looking for that trail and it will be spookily like fox-hunting has always been. My job is to make hunting work under this new legislation and look as much and feel as much as traditional hunting as we possibly can.”

“If when you come and watch us you think we are hunting as normal, then I think we will have achieved that job.”

Police were in attendance to ensure the hunt passed off peacefully and there were no demonstrations from hunt protestors.

Hundreds of riders and followers showed their support for the ancient tradition at the Thurlow Hunt, near Haverhill.

A steady mix of old and young turned up at Great Thurlow Hall - quickly dispelling any suggestion that the ban of hunting with dogs would bring about smaller numbers to the local meetings.

In fact, supporters yesterday said the new Government legislation had made them even more determined to make their views known.

Sam Sheppard told the EADT: “We have received wonderful and fantastic support from the public, both those on foot and horseman.

“What we can now do at the hunt has changed a bit, but the fact so many people have come to support shows what a mockery the whole thing is.”

Fellow supporter Jeremy Lawes, who had travelled from his home in Newmarket, said: “What the Government has attempted to achieve is unworkable.

“More people are supporting the Thurlow Hunt than the last few years and it shows that, if we all stick together, we can survive this.”

Thousands of people lined the streets of Bungay to cheer the Waveney Harriers as they left for their Boxing Day hunt.

The peaceful event went off without a hitch as children as huntsmen and women trotted through the Market Place in the middle of the town.

A lone protestor - not affiliated to any organisation - stood silently on the pavement as the horses and riders went past.

Graham Manning had come over to Bungay from Bury St Edmunds as the traditional hunt over in west Suffolk was not taking place. He said: “I just wanted to make my own protest. It is a silent vigil. I am pleased so many people have come up to me and said 'Good on you'.

“Maybe they are people who feel they are unable to make a stand in a situation like this. It is difficult when you are in the minority. Many they are people who are unable to make a stand.

“What I don't about it is killing with joy, because that is what they are doing. It is with joy and that can't be right.”

During the hunt joint master John Ibbott said he and the riders saw only about three protesters, who were told by police to move away as they were on private land.

Mr Ibbott said: “We were out hunting within the law. It was a lovely day out with a great atmosphere.

“We had a couple of thousand people in the town, who came out to show their support.

“The rural population is very tolerant and don't like intolerant laws. The freedom to hunt was hard won and should have been more keenly protected. It will not be given up lightly. And I can guarantee we shall be back again next year.”

Lawrie Payne, regional spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “The current legislation obviously shows there is no need for foxes to be hunted for people to go out and get enjoyment from riding across the country.

“Indeed now the cruelty has gone the sport seems to have become even more popular. While groups carry on hunting a drag there is every chance they will go from strength to strength but if they go back to the cruelty they may lose that support.”

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