Thousands support Boxing Day hunts

HUNT supporters today remain defiant that the controversial ban on hunting will next year be overturned if the Conservatives win the general election.

HUNT supporters today remain defiant that the controversial ban on hunting will next year be overturned if the Conservatives win the general election.

Thousands of people from across the region turned out on Saturday for the traditional Boxing Day hunts.

The popularity of the hunts on what is traditionally the busiest day in their calendar led to renewed calls for a review of the Hunting Act.

One Suffolk huntsmaster called the ban an “embarrassment for Parliament”.

The EADT revealed on Saturday that despite tens of thousands of pounds and hundreds of police man hours being spent on policing the hunt only two people have been arrested since the act was introduced.

Young and old eager to blow away some of the Christmas cobwebs flocked to the Essex and Suffolk Foxhounds meet in Hadleigh, near Ipswich.

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The sun was shining but there was a crisp feel to the air as the hunt rode out just after 11am from the field close to Toppesfield Gardens.

As well as a small police presence hundreds of people were on hand to show their support and to give riders a good send off as they made their way out into the Suffolk countryside.

James Buckle, master of the Hadleigh hunt, addressed the crowd and called on people to help overturn the controversial hunting ban by helping to vote in a new government.

“They tried to get rid of us and I think we can see here today they failed dismally,” he said. “This current law is really ridiculous. It's an embarrassment for everyone - it's an embarrassment for police, for hunting people and for the saboteurs. It certainly should be an embarrassment for Parliament.”

Speaking before his address - which was met with a round of applause and loud cheers from the crowd - he said he was extremely pleased people continued to demonstrate their support for the sport.

“The turn out is fantastic,” he said. “It's a great opportunity to walk off the Christmas turkey. The weather is behaving itself and for the first time in five years we have a real opportunity to change this law. It is impossible to enforce - we don't know if we are breaking the law so how are the police going to know?”

His thoughts were echoed by those who attended the event, which was also raising money for charity Help for Heroes.

Raymond Parker, from nearby Whatfield, said: “We have come down to support the hunt and get the ban overturned.

“If we get a new government hopefully that will happen and we can get back to proper hunting that we have had for centuries.

“I have been coming to the hunt for as long as I can remember and will continue to do so for as long as I can walk.

“Hunting is something that has carried on for years and years and years - if you destroy the countryside what is going to happen next? First shooting and then fishing? We will then be left with nothing to do and no sports to enjoy at all.”

Connor McFadden and his wife Cathy, from Wivenhoe, near Colchester, have subscribed to the Essex and Suffolk Foxhounds for 13 years and were also off to see another hunt at nearby Lindsey.

“It is something we enjoy in any case but we also feel there is a civil liberties aspect in play,” he said. “The government spent a lot longer debating the hunting legislation than they did discussing sending troops to Iraq - it just doesn't seem rational. We feel very let down by those we have elected to serve us.”

Despite concerns about the weather, both of the west Suffolk hunts went ahead as planned.

At the Thurlow Hunt, between 60 and 70 gathered on horseback and many more on foot.

Hunt master Robin Vestey said there were concerns in the lead-up to the annual event about the weather.

“Luckily we were able to meet. We had good numbers on horses and a huge crowd on foot. It was very gratifying to see. We have had more people in the past but with the weather numbers were down a little. However, everywhere I looked there were people on foot.”

A similar number of riders turned out for the Suffolk Hunt, which set off from Hawstead Place, near Great Whelnetham.

Master of the Hunt James Aldous said about 1,000 people attended the hunt on foot to watch the 60 or so riders. “We had been concerned about the weather. But it seems it was alright, though a bit tricky on some of the roads.”

The 2004 law made hunting with dogs a criminal offence, although exercising hounds, chasing a scent trail and flushing out foxes to be shot are all still legal.

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