Hunts ride out in show of defiance

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The Independent Online

Thousands of hunt supporters turned out as 250 hunts met for the biggest day of the hunting calendar.

An estimated 2,000 supporters watched the pink-jacketed members of the Bicester with Whaddon Chase Hunt set out from Winslow in Buckinghamshire.

Entire families donned Wellingtons and waterproof jackets and braved the murky conditions to send the 160-strong hunt out to chase a scent line instead of a fox in accordance with guidelines laid down by the new laws.

Supporters described the atmosphere as "very friendly", and only two anti-hunt supporters were seen in the crowd.

Caroline Black, 64, from Wing in Buckinghamshire, said: "This is the first time in 35 years that I have not gone out with the hunt. They're following a line but it's so cold-blooded it makes you want to cry.

"People have come out to show their support though. Last year we had 1,000 supporters on foot, and this year we have 2.000. That shows how people feel."

Hunt secretary Robert Valance said the hunt would be watched closely by Thames Valley police and urged hunters to hunt within the law.

Meanwhile, the world's oldest surviving hunt club, the Cheshire Hunt, was out in force for the first traditional Boxing Day meet since the ban.

In 1762, the club of around 80 horsemen and women in traditional red or black tunics, paraded in the village of Tarporley, Cheshire, before setting off to hunt foxes.

Hundreds of local supporters lined the streets to cheer and clap, although to comply with the law the riders were accompanied by just two hounds and a European eagle owl.

These will be used to hunt down the foxes in the countryside outside the village, and once found the fox will be killed by being shot.

Local Tory MP Stephen O'Brien addressed the hunters and supporters before they set off.

He said: "In the light of legislation, hunts are quite rightly looking carefully to ensure they comply with the law and carry on with the traditions which exemplify the very highest values within our rural and village communities.

"Ten months after the ban, it's wonderful to have them in the hearts of our community. It is a tremendous turn out."

Around 60 people on horseback and 1,000 people on foot turned up to support the East Devon Hunt ride out from ancient Woodbury Castle.

The huntsmen set off from the castle, an Iron Age hill fort constructed before the Romans invasion of Britain, at 11am.

Michael Moore, one of the hunt's joint masters, said the Hunting Act had no impact on the turn out today.

He said: "As far as today is concerned there has been no impact at all from the ban. Everybody is cheerful and supportive.

"It's about the same turn out as normal. Last year was a record year when they knew the ban was coming and this year is no different."

He said supporters ranged from the oldest at 78 to the youngest aged five.

Mike Hobday, head of public affairs for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "Overall the impression we get is that turn out is high. What's more difficult to judge is the reason for that.

"We are getting reports of a number of people who are saying they wouldn't have turned out for the hunt if they were chasing foxes and they thought animal cruelty was going to be involved.

"There's a whole group of people in the countryside who don't believe in cruelty, who don't believe it is right to chase foxes and who are free for the first time to get involved with hunts."

Mr Hobday said anyone waiting for the hunting ban to be lifted "should prepare for a long wait".

He added: "We don't believe there is any mood amongst the public to think that chasing and abusing animals for entertainment is acceptable for a modern society."