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The BBC's Lisa Holland in Essex
"A sport that continues to generate high emotion"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 26 December, 2000, 20:10 GMT
Fox hunters out in force
Beaufort Hunt
About 200 people rode with the Beaufort Hunt
Up to 300,000 people are said to have taken part in fox hunts around the UK on Boxing Day, with supporters adamant that the events will not be the last.

The main day of the sport's calendar came round just a week after MPs voted heavily in favour of banning hunting with hounds in England and Wales.

Hunt saboteurs pledged to do all they could to disrupt the meetings, and disputed the numbers estimated by enthusiasts to have taken part.

The League Against Cruel Sports said it had sent monitors to 70% of the day's hunts to count heads, and claimed the overall turnout was less than 60,000 - a claim strenuously dismissed by the Countryside Alliance.

Hunting is an integral part of the rural community in this area

Captain Ian Farquhar
Hundreds of supporters gathered at the Prince of Wales's favourite hunt at the Duke of Beaufort's estate in south Gloucestershire.

Police estimated that 1,500 people turned up at the Beaufort Hunt, based at Badminton.

A hunt spokesman said up to 200 people were riding with the hunt, an extra 500 were following on foot, and the rest were spectators.

Agriculture 'crucified'

Enthusiasts said they were determined to make sure that this year's meet was not their last.

Master of the hounds Captain Ian Farquhar said the hunt bound the local community together.

"Hounds have been kept at Badminton since the early 1600s and hunting is an integral part of the rural community in this area," he said.

Captain Ian Farquhar arrives for hunt
Captain Ian Farquhar: "Hunting binds the community together"
"It generates major employment at a time when agriculture is being crucified.

"It is also a club that binds a local community together regardless of age, background or income."

In Maldon, Essex, one person was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage as hundreds of hunt protesters gathered for the Essex Farmers and Union Hunt.

Chief Inspector Dave Folkard, of Essex Police, said hunters and horses had been pelted with missiles, including eggs, but that the protest had been largely peaceful.

Hunt supporters were also out in large numbers, and a Countryside Alliance spokeswoman said the mood among the hunters at the meet was buoyant and optimistic.

I think MPs will vote for a total ban

Angela Smith MP
But Basildon MP Angela Smith, who was among the protesters, said: "I think this is the last time we will be coming here because there will be no hunting by this time next year.

"I think MPs will vote for a total ban."

Scotland's Boxing Day hunt programme was badly hit by snow and frost, with at least half of its 10 hunts affected.

A Scottish Countryside Alliance spokesman said all cancelled hunts would be re-scheduled.

"What we have got this morning is the equivalent of a pitch inspection in football.

"The ice is a problem - ice is as dangerous to horses as it is to humans," he said.

'Keep your nerve'

MPs voted by 373 to 158 for the Hunting Bill to move to the committee stage in the House of Commons.

A free vote is due to take place next month when MPs will be able to choose between three options contained in the bill, including a total ban.

But the Countryside Alliance is telling members and supporters to "keep your nerve" despite the threat. A huge protest is planned for 18 March through London.

The Hunt Saboteurs' Association, which provides legal and practical information and has more than 3,000 members, said local groups were co-ordinating their own action.

A spokeswoman said: "We will use various tactics like blowing hunting horns so the hounds get conflicting signals, and spraying the ground with citronella, or lemon concentrate, to throw them off track."

Separate proposed legislation banning hunting with hounds is going through the Scottish Parliament.

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See also:

21 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Hunting Bill clears Commons hurdle
21 Nov 00 | Scotland
Clashes over hunt ban bill
28 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Fox hunting season opens
26 Jun 00 | Scotland
Hunting report under fire
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