TWO years to the day since hunting with hounds was banned by the Government, supporters across the region say their sport is stronger than ever.

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the ban, which was met with widespread condemnation from pro-hunt campaigners.

Despite opponents of the ban claiming it would threaten the future of hunts across the country, many rode out at the weekend, declaring that the future of hunting is looking bright.

Andrew Spalding, secretary of the Bedale Hunt, in North Yorkshire, said: "In a strange way, the Labour Party have done us a favour by doing what they did, because since then, so many people have come out and supported hunting financially and in terms of numbers.

"We are getting lots of young people involved, which is great for the future.

"It's just a case of the Government realising they have made a hash of it and repealing the ban and we will be stronger than ever," said Mr Spalding.

Joe Townsend, huntsman for the Hurworth Hunt, said: "What the ban has done for us is that it got people supporting us who perhaps were not behind us before, and it's down to the way we were treated by the Government.

"They ignored half a million people marching on London and then they ignored the Burns Report.

"We are in good shape and we are looking forward to the future with security. We will still be going strong when Blair and his Government have long gone."

Nationally, fox and deer numbers have fallen since hunting with hounds was banned, according to figures published by hunt supporters.

It showed that 36 per cent of hunts report there were fewer foxes than before the Hunting Act. Fox numbers are the same according to 44 per cent of hunt reports, while 20 per cent of of hunts say that there are more foxes.

Mr Townsend said: "I think we have seen about a 30 per cent decrease in the number of foxes over the year. But that is down to a number of things. More people are shooting foxes and there are more poachers with long dogs getting them.

"One thing is for certain, the hunting ban has not done any favours for the fox population."