Hunt supporters claim record number of meets

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Hunting supporters claimed to have organised a record-breaking day in their sport's history, with more than 300,000 people reported at Boxing Day meets.

A total of 314 registered packs of fox, hare and stag hounds met yesterday, more than in any year since records began. The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance said the turnout showed the sport was more popular than ever, two years after the Hunting Act came into force. Crowds of 4,500 followed the Vale of the White Horse Hunt, at Cirencester, in Gloucestershire. At nearby Worcester Lodge, the Beaufort Hunt, one of the Royal Family's favourite packs, reported crowds in excess of 3,000.

"This is the biggest turnout I can remember," said the hunt's spokeswoman, Jo Aldridge. "Although we try not to limit numbers on Boxing Day, because it's a special, celebratory occasion, we've been at capacity for mounted and foot followers all season. We haven't packed up and gone away like some people said we would after the ban. We will carry on for as long as it takes to get the ban repealed."

In Scotland, where hunting has been banned since 2002, several hundred attended the meet of the re-formed Dumfriesshire and Stewartary Hunt.

Although hunting in England and Wales was supposedly made illegal in February 2005, loopholes have allowed the sport to continue in a modified form. Hounds are permitted to follow a "drag," or artificial trail, or flush a fox to be killed by a bird of prey. Terriers can still kill a fox that poses a threat to game birds. Many hunts claim "drag" hunting frequently causes foxes to be killed by accident. However an investigation by The Independent revealed that as many as 50 per cent of hunts are deliberately killing foxes illegally.

The Countryside Alliance admitted that many foxes were killed yesterday, but said this demonstrated that the ban was not working.

The League Against Cruel Sports said it had no objection to hunts meeting on Boxing Day, provided they did not violate the terms of the Hunting Act.