Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Friday, 26 December 2008

Record crowds support local hunt

The Heythrop Hunt
The Countryside Alliance hopes the hunting ban will be scrapped in 2009

About 6,000 people attended the Boxing Day hunt in Oxfordshire - the biggest number for 35 years, according to the Countryside Alliance.

The hunt meets at Heythrop in Chipping Norton in the county.

It is the third year the meet has taken place since laws were brought in outlawing hunting with dogs in 2005.

Under the ban exercising hounds, chasing a scent trail and flushing out foxes to be shot is still legal but hounds cannot be used to kill a fox.

Delly Everard, Wessex regional director for the Countryside Alliance, said: "All different sorts of people of all ages came down to support us. It was freezing cold but thousands made the effort to come out.

"The master of the hunt said this was the most people he'd ever seen in 35 years of hunting."

Ms Everard said she felt people had come out to show their support for scrapping the ban.

The more that people understand about hunting they more they know it's not about getting dressed up in funny clothes and tearing around the countryside
Delly Everard, Countryside Alliance

"More recognise the law isn't working and they are campaigning to have it repealed.

"It's people wanting to support the farmers and the landowners. The law is a mess."

However, anti-hunt campaigners argue that public support is in favour of the ban. A recent poll for the League Against Cruel Sports found 72% thought the foxhunting ban should remain.

"If hunts are hunting legally, as they claim to be, and attracting record support, why on earth do they want a repeal of the Hunting Act and why are they so reluctant to be monitored?" said league chief executive Douglas Batchelor.

More than 300 hunts took place in England and Wales on Boxing Day and three more have started since the ban came into force.

The Countryside Alliance estimates that about 250,000 people from across the country attended a hunt.

Mr Everard said the ban could have served to publicise hunting and make it more popular.

"Support for hunting has definitely increased since the ban came into force and also the fact that it does nothing for animal welfare , the police or the countryside.

"The more that people understand about hunting they more they know it's not about getting dressed up in funny clothes and tearing around the countryside."

She added that she thought this could be the last year hunting with dogs would be banned.

"This could well be the penultimate year under the Hunting Act. Now even previously anti-hunt MPs have recognised that the law isn't working.

"Any law that is such a mess like this can only be scrapped."

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