Hunts ride on as fresh controversies dog sport

West Norfolk Hunt Boxng Day

The West Norfolk Foxhounds set off from their Boxing Day meet at Little Massingham - Credit: Chris Bishop

Hunt supporters were out in force for their Boxing Day meets as the sport rode on through fresh controversies.

More than 50 riders and hundreds of foot followers gathered to see the West Norfolk Foxhounds set off from Little Massingham House, near King's Lynn.

Senior master Andrew Kendall said: "It's really good to be back at a Boxing Day meet, having had a year out last year."

West Norfolk Foxhounds

Huntsman Mikey Bell with the West Norfolk Foxhounds at Little Massingham House - Credit: Chris Bishop

Boxing Day meets were held on Monday, December 27 because the previous day fell on a Sunday, when hunts do not operate. In 2020, meets were cancelled because of Covid.

Mr Kendall said hunting had a long tradition in Norfolk. He added the West Norfolk hunt, which was formed in 1534, was believed to be the oldest in the country.

Mr Kendall said it was a privilege to be able to go out in the countryside and hear the cry of the hounds.

Boxing Day hunt

The West Norfolk Foxhounds stream over a fence as the Boxing Day hunt gets under way at Little Massingham - Credit: Chris Bishop

Controversy again dogged the pastime before hunts up and down the country set off from their meets.

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Hunting foxes was banned by the 2004 Hunting Act. Packs switched to hunting artificial trails when it came into force the following year.

But Labour and League Against Cruel Sports have called for trail hunting to be ended on public land over concerns the practice is being used as a cover for illegal fox hunting.

West Norfolk foxhounds

Followers at the West Norfolk Foxhounds' Boxing Day meet - Credit: Chris Bishop

Their calls came after a senior huntsman was convicted of urging people to use lawful trail hunting, in which a scent is laid for hounds to follow, as a "smokescreen" for illegally hunting foxes.

National Trust members have voted to halt the sport on the charity's land over concerns it was being used as a cover.

Closer to home, Conservative county councillor Bill Borrett resigned as director of the West Norfolk Foxhounds last week, after anti-hunting campaigners released a video which they claimed showed him hitting his horse with the handle of a hunting whip during a meet at West Lexham, near King's Lynn, on December 18.

Mr Borrrett has so far declined to comment on the incident. There was no comment from the hunt before it set off on Boxing Day.