HUNDREDS of riders and supporters turned out for traditional Boxing Day hunts across the North-East and North Yorkshire today (Thursday, December 26).

More than quarter of a million people, on foot and on horseback, are estimated to have joined festive meets across England and Wales.

Among those held in North Yorkshire were the Bedale Hunt, which set off from Bedale Hall Park, and the Zetland Hunt which met at Aldbrough St John, near Richmond.

More than 80 riders gathered in Great Stainton, near Sedgefield, County Durham, for South Durham Hunt, along with 200 supporters on foot.

The Countryside Alliance said the bumper crowds showed that support for hunts is high despite it being almost a decade since foxhunting was banned by Tony Blair's Labour government.

Supporters are currently pushing for a new vote on the ban, which was promised by the coalition Government after the 2010 general election.

And new evidence has been handed to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of a growing threat to livestock, particularly lambs, from a rising fox population.

Executive chairman of the Countryside Alliance, Barney White-Spunner, said: “The arguments for repeal or replacement of the ban are unarguable.”

The alliance said 500 people are employed fulltime by 300 registered hunts across the country and around 10,000 people rely on the industry such as farriers, saddlers, vets and feed merchants.

About 45,000 people follow the hunts on horseback, it added.

However, a poll, carried out on behalf of the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA, found that eight out of ten people in both rural and urban areas believe foxhunting should remain illegal.

Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Hunting is a sickeningly cruel blood sport, which, like us, the majority of the British public do not want brought back.

“We need to move forward as a nation, not backwards on matters of animal welfare, which is why we recently launched our national No Joke online and cinema campaign to remind people of the sheer horror and animal cruelty hiding behind the traditional spectacle.”