Thousands of Britons attend traditional Christmas hunts
Almost four years after fox-hunting was banned in England and Wales, battle lines remain between campaigners who argue it is a traditional sport vital to their rural lifestyles, and animal rights activists who say it is simply cruel.
London -- About 300,000 people gathered at hunts across Britain on Friday, an advocacy group said, for a traditional Christmas event that has long pitted pro- and anti-hunt campaigners against each other.
Some meets saw record numbers of people turn out to support the red-coated horse riders and their dogs as they set off on their traditional Boxing Day (December 26) hunts, the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance said.
About 6,000 attended one gathering in Chipping Norton near Oxford, southern England -- the highest numbers the master of the hunt had seen in the past 35 years, alliance spokesman Tim Bonner told AFP.
Almost four years after foxhunting was banned in England and Wales, battle lines remain between campaigners who argue it is a traditional sport vital to their rural lifestyles, and animal rights activists who say it is simply cruel.
Today, hunters are only allowed to chase an artificial scent, with a few exemptions, and anti-hunting groups have called on members of the public to be on the lookout for any signs that the law is being breached.
But the alliance is calling for the legislation to be repealed, saying it is unworkable and unpopular, noting that more than 8,000 people have signed its petition calling for the ban to be scrapped.
"There is certainly growing support for hunting and for the repeal of the Hunting Act. And people tend to use Boxing Day as an opportunity to show that support," Bonner said from a hunt in Leicestershire, central England.
However, anti-hunt campaigners argue that public support is in favor of the ban. An Ipsos Mori poll published in September for the League Against Cruel Sports found 72 percent thought foxhunting should stay illegal.
"If hunts are hunting legally, as they claim to be, and attracting record support, why on earth do they want a repeal of the Hunting Act and why are they so reluctant to be monitored?" said league chief executive Douglas Batchelor.
Bonner rejected the suggestion that illegal hunting was widespread, but said the ban was "a complete mess", adding: "I believe the vast majority of people are trying to stay inside what is a very complicated law."