Thousands of hunt supporters attend dozens of Boxing Day meets across UK

Boxing Day hunts kicked off across the country today as thousands braved the wind and rain to support the annual tradition. 

More than 80 hunts met across the UK, with supporters lining the routes in Oxfordshire, Essex and Gloucestershire. 

And the Boxing Day crowds showed no sign of dwindling, as people wrapped up in hats and scarves to support the hunt. 

As in previous years, one of the largest turnouts was at the meet of the Heythrop Hunt in Oxfordshire which saw an estimated 5,000 people lining the route in Chipping Norton. 

Riders and hounds set off during the Grove and Rufford Boxing Day Hunt in Bawtry, South Yorkshire, as hunters are seen in their pinks

Riders and hounds set off during the Grove and Rufford Boxing Day Hunt in Bawtry, South Yorkshire, as hunters are seen in their pinks

Riders and hounds set off during the Grove and Rufford Boxing Day Hunt in Bawtry, South Yorkshire, as hunters are seen in their pinks 

Hunters and hounds head off in for the Grove and Rufford Boxing Day Hunt in Bawtry, South Yorkshire as temperatures dropped today

Hunters and hounds head off in for the Grove and Rufford Boxing Day Hunt in Bawtry, South Yorkshire as temperatures dropped today

Hunters and hounds head off in for the Grove and Rufford Boxing Day Hunt in Bawtry, South Yorkshire as temperatures dropped today

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage donned a flat cap and tweed as he was pictured enjoying a pint

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage donned a flat cap and tweed as he was pictured enjoying a pint

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage donned a flat cap and tweed as he was pictured enjoying a pint

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage donned a flat cap and tweed as he was pictured enjoying a pint before the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent hunt in Edenbridge, Kent. 

Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales following the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004 which came into force a year later.

But drag hunting, where hounds are trained to follow an artificial scent, is permitted under the legislation.

However campaigners were still out in force in Belvoir, Leicestershire, wearing fox masks and brandishing signs as they called for tougher laws to keep foxes safe.

The Countryside Alliance’s Head of Hunting Polly Portwin commented: ‘Boxing Day meets offer hunts the perfect opportunity to showcase their legal hunting activities to the public and the media. 

‘Yet again hunts have been welcomed by vast numbers of supporters who have gathered in town squares, outside pubs and in fields surrounding stately homes, to welcome hounds on Boxing Day.

Hounds are pictured bounding down the road at the Essex Hunt meeting at Matching Green which set off from The Chequers pub

Hounds are pictured bounding down the road at the Essex Hunt meeting at Matching Green which set off from The Chequers pub

Hounds are pictured bounding down the road at the Essex Hunt meeting at Matching Green which set off from The Chequers pub 

Hundreds of people wrapped up in tweed and hats lined the route as the hunters made their way through on horseback in Essex

Hundreds of people wrapped up in tweed and hats lined the route as the hunters made their way through on horseback in Essex

Hundreds of people wrapped up in tweed and hats lined the route as the hunters made their way through on horseback in Essex 

A girl pats a horse on the nose in Matching Green, Essex, and wears ear muffs to keep warm before the hunt set off today

A girl pats a horse on the nose in Matching Green, Essex, and wears ear muffs to keep warm before the hunt set off today

A girl pats a horse on the nose in Matching Green, Essex, and wears ear muffs to keep warm before the hunt set off today

Queen star Brian May was pictured supporting a humane bloodhound hunt on Boxing Day to highlight the cruelty-free side of recreational hunting.

The guitarist and animal rights campaigner joined the Three Counties Bloodhounds in a horse and cart at the ‘friendly family run pack’, for its annual event in Swansea alongside Byron John, the master of the ‘clean boot’ hunt.

The event saw riders on horseback and their team of hounds chasing a human runner instead of a fox. 

Queen star Brian May was pictured riding through Swansea in a horse and cart. The meet supports a humane bloodhound hunt on Boxing Day to highlight the cruelty-free side of recreational hunting

Queen star Brian May was pictured riding through Swansea in a horse and cart. The meet supports a humane bloodhound hunt on Boxing Day to highlight the cruelty-free side of recreational hunting

Queen star Brian May was pictured riding through Swansea in a horse and cart. The meet supports a humane bloodhound hunt on Boxing Day to highlight the cruelty-free side of recreational hunting

A little boy gets in the saddle as a huntsman in his Pinks smiles for the camera before the hunt set off in Matching Green, Essex

A little boy gets in the saddle as a huntsman in his Pinks smiles for the camera before the hunt set off in Matching Green, Essex

A little boy gets in the saddle as a huntsman in his Pinks smiles for the camera before the hunt set off in Matching Green, Essex 

The Belvoir Boxing Day hunt gets underway in Lincolnshire and is met with anti-hunt protesters - one is pictured wearing a fox mask

The Belvoir Boxing Day hunt gets underway in Lincolnshire and is met with anti-hunt protesters - one is pictured wearing a fox mask

The Belvoir Boxing Day hunt gets underway in Lincolnshire and is met with anti-hunt protesters – one is pictured wearing a fox mask 

Protesters were seen in the crowds at the Belvoir Boxing Day hunt with holding signs saying: 'Stop hunting and love foxes'

Protesters were seen in the crowds at the Belvoir Boxing Day hunt with holding signs saying: 'Stop hunting and love foxes'

Protesters were seen in the crowds at the Belvoir Boxing Day hunt with holding signs saying: ‘Stop hunting and love foxes’ 

‘This has been an incredibly wet season so preparations have been made more difficult than in recent years, however it is testament to the determination of hunts and the generosity of landowners that so many meets have gone ahead again today to ensure that the thousands of those who turned out to support were not disappointed,’ she continued.

Speaking about the Chipping Norton crowds, joint-master Nessie Chanter said: ‘The turnout, which is estimated to be over 5,000 people, is incredible. Regular hunt supporters and members of the public seem to turnout every year regardless of the weather and it never ceases to amaze us. We are so thankful to be greeted in this manner by such a supportive crowd here in Chipping Norton.’

And in Lancashire, the Holcombe Hunt also welcomed yet another bumper crowd.  

Joint-master Sue Simmons enthused: ‘I am always so delighted to see such a great turnout of riders and foot followers in all weathers. 

‘Our annual Boxing Day parade of hounds and hunt ride at Rivington Barn also attracts our landowners and farmers who are so supportive of hunting today in its modern-day format. It’s a pleasure to see the hunt continuing to provide a social stronghold throughout the rural community of Lancashire, reaching out to young and old alike.’

The hounds make their way towards Worcester Lodge during the Beaufort Boxing Day Hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

The hounds make their way towards Worcester Lodge during the Beaufort Boxing Day Hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

The hounds make their way towards Worcester Lodge during the Beaufort Boxing Day Hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

Crowds gather in the wind and rain with umbrellas as they look at the hounds in the ring before the hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

Crowds gather in the wind and rain with umbrellas as they look at the hounds in the ring before the hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

Crowds gather in the wind and rain with umbrellas as they look at the hounds in the ring before the hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

A fog descends on Badminton, Gloucestershire, as families and horses make their way down the hill towards Worcester Lodge

A fog descends on Badminton, Gloucestershire, as families and horses make their way down the hill towards Worcester Lodge

A fog descends on Badminton, Gloucestershire, as families and horses make their way down the hill towards Worcester Lodge  

The North Cotswold Hunt held its meet in Broadway High Street in Gloucestershire. 

Oliver Dale MFH, joint-master of the North Cotswold Hunt said: ‘We had a crowd of several thousand here again today to show their support for our magnificent hounds. People from all walks of life came to join us on this very traditional day, demonstrating the important part that hunts play within their local communities.’

Camilla Swift, joint-master of the Surrey Union said: ‘We’re so lucky to have hundreds of people joining us yet again at our kennels near Ockley in Surrey to show that hunting is still thriving. We are particularly pleased to see so many young people.’

It comes as animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports said it will continue to lobby MPs to strengthen the Hunting Act and ‘remove loopholes’ which it claims allow hunts to still get away with killing foxes for fun.

Riders take a break and share a joke as they arrive at Worcester Lodge during the Beaufort Boxing Day Hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

Riders take a break and share a joke as they arrive at Worcester Lodge during the Beaufort Boxing Day Hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

Riders take a break and share a joke as they arrive at Worcester Lodge during the Beaufort Boxing Day Hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

The charity’s director of campaigns, Chris Luffingham, said: ‘There has been a sea change in the way the fox hunting debate is being framed and with the ban now secure, our emphasis has shifted towards the strengthening of the Hunting Act.

‘To end fox hunting for good, the Hunting Act needs to be strengthened by removing the loopholes and exemptions being exploited by the fox hunts to cover up their brutal activities.

‘The introduction of prison sentences for those convicted of fox hunting would help ensure there is a strong deterrent to prevent the deliberate and widespread chasing and killing of foxes.’

The charity said it had received 184 reports of suspected illegal fox hunting since the season began in late October.

Children stroke a hound at the hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire, as the dog appears to be enjoying the attention from the crowds

Children stroke a hound at the hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire, as the dog appears to be enjoying the attention from the crowds

Children stroke a hound at the hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire, as the dog appears to be enjoying the attention from the crowds 

The riders take a break from the action as they have a chat together during the Beaufort Boxing Day Hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

The riders take a break from the action as they have a chat together during the Beaufort Boxing Day Hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

The riders take a break from the action as they have a chat together during the Beaufort Boxing Day Hunt in Badminton, Gloucestershire

Luke Pollard MP, shadow environment, food and rural affairs minister, said: ‘Fox hunting is cruel, unnecessary and unpopular. It should be consigned to the history books.

‘The Prime Minister must ensure his majority is not used to allow the return of fox hunting.

‘Labour will use every opportunity to enhance and strengthen the Hunting Act, reviewing penalties to make sure there is an effective deterrent for illegal hunting, and introducing a ‘recklessness’ clause to stop trail hunts being used to kill foxes.’ 

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