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Boxing Day hunts draw crowds of hundreds of thousands

Boxing Day hunts have drawn crowds of hundreds of thousands, with fox-hunting supporters claiming the events were attended by "as many if not more" than ever before.

With "at least 250,000" gathering at some of the many hunts taking place across the country, pro-hunting group the Countryside Alliance said it was a "great turnout".

This is despite anti-blood sports charity the League Against Cruel Sports suggesting opposition to repealing the ban has risen steadily since its introduction.

Chief executive of the Countryside Alliance and former farmer Tim Bonner told the Press Association there were "huge crowds from Cornwall to Cumbria".

"Frankly, even though it is 11 years on after the ban came into force, it is business as usual and (they are) quite determined they are not going to lie down, they are not going to go away.

"We are seeing a huge amount of support from the rural community."

Mr Bonner said many of the hunts had "as many if not more" attendees than ever before, adding: "I think we would be confident saying there were at least 250,000 out supporting the hunts."

Brought in in 2005, the Hunting Act forbids the hunting of animals such as foxes with dogs. Since then many hunts have continued operating within the law.

Drag hunting, where hounds are trained to follow an artificial trail, is legal, but anti-hunt campaigners claim illegal hunting of foxes continues.

The Countryside Alliance said nobody connected to one of the more than 300 hunts in England and Wales registered with Council of Hunting Associations had been convicted of hunting offences in the past two years.

Since the Act was brought in more than a decade ago, 94% of the 423 people successfully prosecuted under the act were for casual hunting or poaching and had nothing to do with registered hunts, the organisation said.

It added that the rate of successful prosecutions associated with registered hunts was falling.

Questioned on whether he thinks the ban is trying to eradicate a British tradition, he said: "You only have to walk into any pub in the countryside - most of them are named after the hunt.

"And not just that, everything from the whips in the House of Commons - that is a hunting phraseology and it is deep in our language and our culture.

"We are quite certain that the hunting act had nothing to do with animal welfare, it was an attack on a group of people and a way of life and purely a prejudicial political act.

"That is one of the reasons that the people who run hunts and who continue to hunt are quite determined that they are not going to go away."

The League Against Cruel Sports said an Ipsos Mori survey of 1,986 people showed 84% of those asked said hunting should not be made legal again.

Over time the charity said polling also showed opposition to repealing the ban has steadily risen - increasing to 82% in rural areas, up from 69% four years ago.

But Mr Bonner branded their polling process as "essentially corrupt".

"I think the really telling point is that when the BBC commissioned a poll with Mori when the ban came into force, but asked a straight question, less than 50% of the population, less than the majority, supported the ban," he added.

"In the end you get what you pay for and it is a sad indictment on the polling industry, but quite clearly the polls are designed to get a result.

"And the way they are accelerating, I fully expect that over 100% of people will apparently want hunting to be banned by the time we get to next Boxing Day."

League Against Cruel Sports' chief executive Eduardo Goncalves said: "The Boxing Day hunts are portrayed as a glorious pageant taking place in front of a huge number of people who support them, but the truth is very different.

"The fact is 84% of the public do not want fox hunting made legal.

"Just because families might venture out on Boxing Day to see the hunt, stroke the dogs or watch the horses, doesn't mean they support repealing a law to enable the hunt to chase and kill wild animals with their dogs for sport."

But Mr Bonner said as a group they "will not stop campaigning" to get the ban scrapped.

Taking a "Labour government with a huge majority" to introduce the ban, he said it will probably take a "huge majority of pro-hunting MPs" before the situation can be resolved and "some sensible legislation introduced".

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