Threatened hunts seek show of support

THE region's traditional Boxing Day hunts will take place today with the pro-hunt lobby believing there will be an unprecedented show of support for the country sport.

THE region's traditional Boxing Day hunts will take place today with the pro-hunt lobby believing there will be an unprecedented show of support for the country sport.

Liz Mort, eastern region director for the Countryside Alliance, said she is expecting more than 400,000 people to turn out at hunts nationally to make their feelings known – with many of those in Suffolk and Essex.

Ms Mort said: "They are foot supporters who don't normally come but want to show their support, and there's been a lot of shooting people turning out as well.

"We always get an enormously big turnout in this region because hunting means a lot to a lot of people, but this year I know it's going to be bigger than ever."

Ms Mort added: "People want to show their support – they want to stand up and be seen to be supporting their hunts.

"I've had so many phone calls from people asking where their local hunt is because they want to go – they are obviously not real hunt people, but they want to support us. It's going to be a big day on Monday."

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However, the League Against Cruel Sports said they had no plans to stage demonstrations today, saying its aim of getting the sport banned had already been successful.

From February 18, hunting fox, deer and hare with hounds in England and Wales will be a criminal offence.

However, it emerged last week that the Countryside Alliance may seek an injunction delaying the ban, which would not be opposed by Government ministers.

The alliance is challenging the way the ban on hunting was brought into law in the High Court next month but members also plan to seek an injunction if it loses.

A new Hunting Handbook has also been published to let hunts know how to continue within the law.

Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, and Stephen Lambert, chairman of the Council of Hunting Associations, say in the foreword that they see the ban as "temporary".

They add that continuing with meets "is the practical part of the Three Strand Strategy and together with the political and legal elements will ensure that our activities continue and this unjust law is repealed either by our action in the courts or by a future Government which puts principle before prejudice."

A series of meets take places across East Anglia today – the Boxing Day hunts having been moved back a day from a Sunday slot.

Hunt supporters from across north Suffolk are expected in Bungay to see the Waveney Harriers.

Andrew Kendall, of Waveney Harriers, said: "This year more people than ever before are showing their support for hunting.

"Everyone recognises that hunting is threatened with a ban and we are determined to do everything we can to maintain what is a vital part of the rural economy."

Edmund Vestey, master of the Thurlow Hunt, said: "I think today's meeting is crucial. Boxing Day is one of the two show days of the season and this year, with the threat we are all under, it is not just Boxing Day which is important – it is every day.

"More people are coming out this season than ever before and we are even getting people who have never hunted just turning up to show their support."

The League Against Cruel Sports is not organising any demonstrations at today's hunts.

Eastern regional representative Lawrie Payne said: "We have achieved our aims in getting hunting banned through the House of Commons.

"We would see it as provocative by going along this year. We certainly wouldn't want to be responsible for creating trouble."

He added: "We have achieved our aims, for us it would achieve no purpose."

But he said he feels disappointed and angry at news that ban might not come into force for a year due to a legal challenge brought by the Countryside Alliance.

"I think the Government's proposition is disgraceful. It looks like an organisation like ours should be challenging it rather than parliament. It's unknown for parliament not to put through its bills."

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