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Fox hunt gains support after ban

PUBLISHED: 13:41 02 January 2008 | UPDATED: 19:08 02 July 2010

RECORD numbers attended the traditional Boxing Day hunts, two years after hunting with dogs was banned. The Countryside Alliance claimed 250,000 people took part in 314 fox hunts across the country. Hunts gathered across Kent, Sussex and Surrey with rid

RECORD numbers attended the traditional Boxing Day hunts, two years after hunting with dogs was banned.

The Countryside Alliance claimed 250,000 people took part in 314 fox hunts across the country.

Hunts gathered across Kent, Sussex and Surrey with riders maintaining there was increasing support for a repeal of the Hunting Act.

Under the Act, dogs can still be used to follow a scent but cannot be used to kill the fox.

Les Gallop, 63, a former master of the hounds from Sevenoaks said: "The popularity of the sport has never been stronger.

"Unfortunately I was unable to hunt this Boxing Day because I have a bad back but I hope to be back in the saddle for my birthday next week once I have had my final session of physiotherapy.

"The Boxing Day hunt is so traditional Christmas would not be the same without it. You either go hunting or shooting and it has been that way for hundreds of years."

Speaking about the ban, he added: "The Hunting Act is a mish-mash and the only way forward that I can see is to repeal it.

"There has been no common sense thought at all, hunting should have been licensed and the law made much clearer and easier to understand.

"The biggest problem is the fact that these fox hounds have for 300 years been bred to hunt a fox. You can put a line down and make it as real and scented as possible, it is not impossible but it is not easy. Trying to persuade one of these hounds to ignore a real fox scent if they pick it up and not go after it is very tricky, and with the law as it is many innocent hunters can be prosecuted through no fault of their own.

"Despite this popularity is growing and there is a large movement among teenagers who are now very active in the sport.

"All the law has done is make it harder for the hunt staff and those who take part but the amount of people who still attend, even as spectators, show it will never disappear from the calendar."

Support for fox hunting has been strong in north Kent for years. In 2004 Dartford MP, Dr Howard Stoate was even heckled by hunt supporters during a visit to Horton Kirby.

Hunt supporters also claim the ban has not stopped the killing of foxes. William Meakin, from Betsham, near Gravesend, attended the Old Surrey and Burstow West Kent Hunt. He said: "It was absolutely packed, with over 80 riders and hundreds on foot. The support was incredible and is growing. I think the extra publicity since the Hunting Act has encouraged people to try the sport and it has grown.

"It is, however, a silly bit of legislation. The amount of foxes killed has not gone down because we see many injured or dead when we take part in a hunt that have not even been killed on a hunt.

Despite much opposition to the ban The League Against Cruel Sports, which campaigns to enforce the ban, says public opinion is still strongly in support of the ban. People who support the legislation say the practice is cruel and outdated.

The Countryside Alliance has described the law as "dreamt up by people who know nothing about the countryside."

Michael.adkins@archant.co.uk

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