Crowds greet hunts across Norfolk and Suffolk as hounds and riders gather for Boxing Day meets
- Credit: Archant
While politicians now say there is little chance of the ban on hunting foxes from being repealed, officials said their sport was now more popular than ever.
More than 1,000 supporters were waiting at Raynham Hall, as huntsman Toby Coles brought the West Norfolk Foxhounds up the tree-lined drive.
Mr Coles, who has been huntsman since May, said he had never hunted a fox as hounds were petted by folowers.
Instead, the pack set off on an artificial trail, with riders unaware where the scent would take them as the hounds cantered off in full cry.
Hunt officials admitted they were disappointed that repealing the 2004 Hunting Act appeared to have fallen down the politcal agenda since the Conservatives 2015 manifesto pledge to support so-called country sports.
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Hunt chairman Bill Borrett said he would like to see the act repealed, but change was down to the will of Parliament.
'It's great to see such a massive crowd here, it's such a beautiful day,' he added. 'The hounds have been meeting here for hundreds of years, we're very grateful to Lord and Lady Townshend for having us here today.'
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Elsewhere, several hundred supporters gathered at the Market Cross in Wymondham to see the Dunstan Harriers meet before their traditional Boxing Day hunt.
There was a chill in the air but the sun shone brightly on the beautifully turned out horses and riders and a small contingent of hounds before they left to a round of applause, trotting away down Queen Street before coming back up Fairland Street and down Market Street.
They then left the town and headed out into the countryside towards Barnham Broom.
Supporters of fox hunting, who were expecting more than 250,000 people to turn out for Boxing Day events, called for the scrapping of the Hunting Act, which forbids the hunting of animals such as foxes with dogs.
But the League Against Cruel Sports said polling showed the opposition to fox hunting remained high, with 84pc of the 1,986 people quizzed in an Ipsos MORI survey saying it should not be made legal again.
The anti-blood sports charity said polling over time showed opposition to repealing the ban had risen steadily, and had also increased to 82pc in rural areas, up from 69pc four years ago.
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 84pc 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.'