Laying a trail for the Boxing Day hunt in West Norfolk
- Credit: Archant
As riders and foot followers gathered for the West Norfolk Hunt's Boxing Day meet, the trail was being laid for the hounds.
Luke Newbon, the hunt's countryman, was soaking a rag in a special scent for the pack to follow.
Hunts were banned from chasing foxes, hare and deer by the 2004 Hunting Act. Since then artificial trails have been the only legal scent to follow.
Mr Newbon set off on a quad bike, along a meandering route near derelict farm buildings.
'I've got a rough idea of where to start and where to finish,' said Mr Newbon. 'What's between it's up to me.'
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Mr Newbon said he tried to recreate the unpredictable trail of a live quarry, but with artificial scent.
As riders gathered for the meet, field secretary Lizzie Case said hounds might struggle to stay on the scent in the mild, foggy conditions.
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'Generally cold is better,' she said. 'Or rain is good.'
As Mr Newbon disappeared into the fog with his trail, supporters were waiting for the hounds at Raynham Hall.
'It's an excellent turn-out of people on foot, it's fantastic,' said field master Nick Saffell, surveying the tweed and waxed cotton-clad crowds.
'The public like it as well. It's one of the prettiest locations in Norfolk, the background is absolutely stunning with the lake, the house.'
Lord Townshend, who owns the estate, began inviting the hunt on Boxing Day four years ago. The pack had previously met at Fakenham Racecourse.
'It's lovely,' he said. 'It's a tradition we've started again, we love having people here and it doesn't matter that it's such a foggy day.'
Followers enjoyed traditional refreshments at the hall before huntsman Charles Saffell gathered his hounds and set off down the tree-lined drive for open country at a brisk trot.
Some way ahead of the chasing pack, Mr Newbon was topping up his rag to keep things moving, as followers lined the lanes and scanned the fields for a glimpse of the hunt.
It came as Labour promised to strengthen the legislation banning hunting with hounds with possible prison sentences for offenders who break the law.
Shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman said an incoming Labour government would review penalties under the Hunting Act 2004 to ensure it is an effective deterrent.
It would include a consultation on the introduction of custodial sentences, bringing it in line with the penalties for other wildlife crimes.
Ms Hayman said they would also consider measures to prevent the exploitation of 'loopholes' in the legislation, which covers England and Wales.
There was no sign of protest at the West Norfolk meet. An anti hunt group had posted the location of the meet as Fakenham Racecourse on social media.