Horses and hounds meet for annual Boxing Day hunts
- Credit: Archant
Riders and followers turned out in their droves for East Anglia's traditional Boxing Day hunts.
After a night of rain and blustery winds the weather looked favourably on the gathering packs and still, blue skies meant perfect conditions for them to follow their pre-laid trails across the Norfolk countryside.
At Sennowe Park in Guist there were riders of all ages joining in the North Norfolk Harriers hunt to blow away the Christmas cobwebs with some as young as three years old on board neatly turned out ponies for the morning jaunt.
The drive up to the hall was lined with vehicles as dozens of followers had come out to support the age-old tradition.
The West Norfolk Foxhounds met at Raynham Hall, near Fakenham, for their drag hunt with photographer Matthew Olley describing a 'fantastic atmosphere'.
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Meanwhile the Dunstan Harriers were welcomed into Wymondham town centre and the Waveney Harriers met in the centre of Bungay where more than 2,000 turned out to support.
About 35 riders rode from Mettingham to gather in Earsham Street, where riders chatted to members of the public, who were able to see the horses and hounds up close.
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Former honorary secretary of the Waveney Harriers Tizzy Craggs said: 'The support from the town is always hugely encouraging. It's part of English heritage and it's a tradition they don't want to see go.
'In a fast changing world it's something that's not changing.'
A small group of anti-hunt protesters staged a peaceful demonstration at the event, holding up placards including one with the slogan 'Waveney Harriers Must Stop Hunting.'
Bungay resident Mrs Craggs claimed opposition was more about class than animal rights.
She added: 'There's only a small coterie of so-called animal activists here. They don't like the people who are on the horses. It's much more to do with class than animal welfare and always has been from the very beginning.'
One spectator, who was in the town to visit family, said she did not agree with it and thought the horses looked 'scared'.
One man who turned out every year to watch the hunt parade through the town said he just liked the tradition of it.
He added: 'I think it should be allowed to carry on, it's been going on for years.'
Before the Harriers moved off, a hunting horn was sounded and the hunt made their way back to Mettingham for a day's trail hunting.
Meanwhile, Suffolk police are investigating allegations a fox was killed illegally and an allegation of common assault on a Boxing Day hunt.
Officers from the rural crime team were called to the Great Thurlow Hunt at around 2pm yesterday to reports of an incident between a hunt group and hunt monitors in Trundley Wood, off Bury Road.
Police attended and have launched an investigation into an alleged hunting offence under the Hunting Act 2004, and an allegation of common assault.
No arrests have been made, but officers are appealing for witnesses.
Inspector Jo Garrard of Suffolk Police said: 'We take these reports seriously and are conducting an investigation into the circumstances around this incident.
'The investigation is progressing and the alleged offences are being investigated by officers in the Suffolk Rural Crime Unit. Officers are in the process of collating evidence and identifying, contacting and taking statements from individuals at the scene.
'There were a large number of people in attendance and we would like to appeal to any individuals who may have left the scene, but have not yet come forward, to contact us. We are keen to identify and gather all available evidence which may assist the investigation.'
In total more than 250 hunts were set to meet for their annual Boxing Day event across the country today.
According to recent reports the Prime Minister, Theresa May, will abandon her Conservative general election manifesto pledge to give MPs a free vote on whether to overturn the fox hunting ban.
It is said she will announce plans in early 2018 to permanently drop the commitment to a House of Commons vote.
But the Countryside Alliance said the 'future of hunting is secure' as many more young people are joining the hunting field.
Its chief executive Tim Bonner said: 'There are very few activities which bring the generations together as hunting does and many hunts meeting today will have active participants of every age.
'It is clear that there has been a revival in hunt participation the last 10 years and that the make-up of hunt supporters has changed. The stereotype of the posh male hunter was never representative, but now it is actually misleading as the number of female subscribers and Masters running hunts is growing all the time.'