Hunts saw some of the biggest turnouts in years yesterday aided by the exceptionally mild weather, underlining the public’s backing for the sport, supporters said.
More than 2,000 people turned out on Beverley Westwood to see 70 riders gather for their traditional Boxing Day meet.
For the past two years the wintry conditions have made it impossible to hunt, but yesterday people were shading their eyes against the sun to watch a long line of horses setting off across the grassy sward.
While public support appears strong as ever seven years after the ban on hunting was introduced, members of the hunt do not expect the Hunting Act to be repealed soon.
Joint Master of the Holderness Hunt William Bethell, who has been master for 20 years, said he believed they would see it happen within five years, but not immediately as the Government, as he put it, “had more important fish to fry”. He said: “The Act is not workable and is a waste of police time and everyone’s time. But there are more important things for the Conservatives to do. Time is marching on, the country is disappearing down a plughole and we have to get the country back on its feet. It is a major issue in our lives but minor for the rest of the country.
“We have been able to put up with it and support has grown incredibly, with today easily 2,000 on foot.
“The farmers don’t like it so much as they want us to do a job so to speak – they don’t want us to be parading around.”
Trevor Stockill, who has hunted for 40 years, says his horsecare products business would only employ half the staff if it were not for hunting.
He too doesn’t expect a repeal any time soon: “I don’t think this Government will, but I think a future government will do something about it, it’s a stupid Act and badly written.”
Jenny Tomlinson-Walsh, secretary of the Badsworth and Bramham Moor Hunt which met at Wentbridge, near Pontefract, and Aberford, near Tadcaster, said they’d had an “enormous turnout”: “Wentbridge was full, the whole village came to a halt supporting the hunt and we’ve had a wonderful day.”
The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance said they thought the good weather may have broken their estimate of around a quarter of a million people turning out to 300 meets yesterday. “It shows people are right behind them and hunting is as well supported as ever,” said a spokesman.
However Shadow Environment Secretary and Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said the Government knew it didn’t have enough support in Parliament: “There is no place for animal cruelty in a civilised society and most people back Labour’s ban on hunting wild animals with dogs.
“People are worried about their incomes falling, prices rising and losing their jobs, yet this out of touch Tory-led Government want to bring hunting back.
“The reason they haven’t held a vote is because they know they do not have enough votes in Parliament to get it through. I hope that hunts will continue to respect the law this year.”
The League Against Cruel Sports, which claims the majority of hunts are flouting the law, said there was “absolutely no desire among the general public” to bring back hunting.
A survey they conducted of 2,126 adults showed that just under half thought bringing back hunting was the least important animal welfare priority.
Earlier this year the charity said it would spend £1m over the next four years hiring investigations staff and equipment to gather evidence and get hunts into court. Foxhunting has been illegal in England and Wales in 2005. It is still legally practised in Australia, Ireland and North America.
Tony Blair’s memoirs revealed the Act was “one of the domestic legislative measures I most regret”. The former PM confessed he was “ignorant” about the sport when he made the “rash undertaking” to agree to a ban.
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