HUNTERS and their hounds took to the countryside for the traditional Boxing Day meet.

The Countryside Alliance estimates more than 300 hunts took place in the UK yesterday – almost four years after a Government ban on hunting with hounds About 70 riders met for mulled wine at the Queen’s Head, in Lanchester, County Durham, before trail-hunting in the surrounding area with 33 hounds.

Alan Chapman, master of the hunt, said: “We had a very good turnout in Lanchester and a very good turnout from locals as well, and we’ve had a lovely day out.

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“Every day in the countryside is a lovely day. The weather’s been very kind.”

In Northallerton, North Yorkshire, 400 people watched the Hurworth Hunt gather in the High Street, outside the Golden Lion pub.

Hunt secretary Ken Fox said that although riders were hoping for a change in the law, using a trail was just as much fun.

“It’s all about keeping a valuable tradition alive until the law changes,” he said.

“It is such a social activity, and that is a big part of its appeal, and, of course, the horses and the hounds have a wonderful time too.”

About 70 riders with the South Durham Hunt set out from The Talbot Inn in Bishopton, near Darlington, yesterday.

Hundreds of supporters watched them depart for Redmarshall, Carlton and the surrounding area at 11am with 34 hounds.

Joint master Judy Shield said: “It has been a very successful day and we are pleased to have been so well supported.”

The Hunting Act outlawed hunting with hounds in 2005, but the Countryside Alliance says a 7,700-name petition for a repeal has growing support.

Most hunts use artificial scents and dead foxes to reward dogs, but anti-hunt campaigners say that some exploit loopholes in the law.

The Act has a number of exemptions, including the use of birds of prey and two dogs flushing out quarries.

Pro-hunt campaigners maintain the Act is illogical and does nothing to protect wild animals from unnecessary suffering, however opposition to their cause remains fierce.

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “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?”