RIDERS and hounds took to the fields at the weekend at the start of the new hunting season.

More than 80 riders with their horses, including teenage children, took part in the Zetland Hunt.

The hunt started at 11am from Headlam, in County Durham, after an address from the hunt masters.

The hounds were sent off before the riders followed ten minutes later before a large gathered crowd.

Although there were no protestors present, the hunts have been challenged by campaigners. Hunting foxes with hounds was banned in February 2005 despite protests that it would destroy a countryside way of life.

Two attempts to overturn the ban have failed.

Huntsmen instead continue to operate by using a drag hunting method.

Animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports, however, has challenged what it describes as the hypocrisy of hunting.

Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Hunters are telling us on the one hand that hunting is more popular than ever, and yet on the other are calling for the Hunting Act to be repealed. If hunting is now so popular, why would you bring back the cruelty?

Their hypocrisy is desperate.”

A poll by Ipsos-Mori showed support for the ban had increased to 85 per cent on hare hunting and 75 per cent on fox hunting. While support was lower in rural areas, it is still measured at 71 per cent.