Biggest day in hunting calendar is still a draw despite the ban

The 2011 Holderness Hunt on Beverley Westwood
The 2011 Holderness Hunt on Beverley Westwood
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Thousands of people are set to gather in time-honoured tradition for a regular fixture in the countryside calendar this morning.

Despite it being nearly nine years since the Hunting Act was passed, Boxing Day hunts continue to be popular among the nation’s rural communities with as many as 250,000 people are expected to turn out for the biggest day in the UK’s hunting calender.

A total of nine hunts are due to take place across Yorkshire today according to lists provided by the Masters of Foxhounds Association.

Jenny Tomlinson-Walsh, secretary of the Badsworth and Bramham Moor Foxhounds, said their local hunt had actually become more popular since the ban, with more than 200 people were expected to turn out for the group’s meeting at Wentbridge and Aberford in West Yorkshire.

“It’s a wonderful occasion,” she said. “We support the local industry and it’s very much a community event.

“The number of people who turn out increases year on year - since 2004 it has increased by eight per cent nationally.”

The Bilsdale Hunt in North Yorkshire is the oldest in the country, dating back to the 1600s.

Susan Reynolds, the hunt’s secretary, said she was expecting around 25 to 30 participants.

Ahead of the annual spectacle, the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance has stepped up its calls for the Government to make good on its promise, written into the coalition agreement, to hold a Parliamentary vote on a repeal of the Hunting Act.

The hunting of foxes, deer, hares and mink with dogs is illegal under the Act.

Since the legislation came into effect in 2005 hunts have followed artificially laid trails or use exemptions permitted in the Act.

Speaking at the start of the week, the Countryside Alliance’s executive chairman Barney White-Spunner said: “We have less than 18 months left in this parliament but the Government is still to make good many of its promises to the countryside - not least the pledge of support to hunting.

“Tackling the failed Hunting Act is a matter of trust between David Cameron, the coalition Government and the countryside.

“In three and a half years the Government has done nothing to address this illiberal, unjust and divisive law.

“The arguments for repeal or replacement of the ban are unarguable. Proposals to amend the Act backed by science have been brought forward and there is solid support in Parliament. Doing nothing is not an acceptable option.

“Hunting is a totemic issue and even a small improvement to the current situation would go a long way to persuading rural people that the Government is in step with them.”

While those lobbying against the ban argue that hunting is an important part of rural culture and necessary for pest control, opponents argue that it is cruel and unnecessary.

Launching a new advertising campaign last month, Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “After fighting tirelessly for over 80 years for hunting with dogs to be banned, we are not about to let the threat of repeal become a reality.

“We know that the majority of the British public do not want to see a return to hunting with dogs for sport. However a vocal minority do, and so it is important that we remind people, both young and old what a return to this barbaric cruelty would look like if this important piece of wildlife legislation was to be overturned.”

A spokesperson for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said that there are “many pressing issues for Parliamentary time currently and there are no imminent plans to bring forward a repeal motion”.

The Countryside Alliance say Defra has said it will consider a proposal from farmers to amend the law to make it easier to flush and shoot foxes.

The proposed amendment, which calls for more than two dogs to be used in flushing foxes for predator control, is crucial for farmers as lambing season approaches, the Alliance says.

But any amendment to the Hunting Act can only be made by an order approved by affirmative resolution of each House of Parliament.