THOUSANDS of people turned out to support the region’s traditional Boxing Day meets – with debate raging about the possible repeal of the hunting ban.

The Hurworth Hunt met at the Golden Lion Hotel, in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, much to the pleasure of locals who had gathered to watch the annual spectacle.

Snow and ice meant it would have been too dangerous for the horses to gallop across country, but the meet went ahead to avoid disappointment.

Joint master Ken Fox said: “A lot of people would have been let down if we hadn’t turned out and many of them gave us their vocal support.”

Other hunts that turned out in the region included The Zetland, which met at Aldborough St John, North Yorkshire, and the South Durham, which met in Bishopton, near Sedgefield.

The South Durham Hunt were at the Talbot Inn, in Bishopton, near Sedgefield, at about 11am.

About 30 riders and 28 hounds later set out to “hunt”

in the surrounding area.

Secretary Judith Shield said: “The weather was quite dicey, so I don’t think there were many hunts out, but we braved the weather. It was crisp, the sun was shining and it was refreshing to get out .”

Many hunts are supporting the campaign calling for the scrapping of the controversial Hunting Act which limited their activities five years ago.

Conservative leader David Cameron has promised a free vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act, saying he believes it doesn’t work and doesn’t make sense.

Frank Houghton-Brown, joint master of the Tynedale Hunt, which met in Corbridge, Northumberland, said: “It [the hunting ban] has not saved any foxes’ lives and it has wasted more than 700 hours of Parliament time.

‘‘It is simply not working and is causing the police a massive headache.

‘‘We now hunt an artificial trail, but we still kill just as many foxes as we did before the ban, by legal means, because farmers want them dead so they don’t kill the lambs.”

As hunts met around the country, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn is leading a campaign in support of the fox-hunting ban.

The campaign, which urges people to demonstrate their support at, comes as opponents of the 2004 anti-hunt law stepped up their protests.

Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said there was real optimism among the hunting community.

“There is now a widespread acceptance that this law has failed and the fact that, five years after it was passed, ministers and anti-hunt MPs are desperately trying to defend it speaks volumes,” he said.

“The momentum for repeal is unstoppable and that simply would not have happened if the law was justified, proportionate and workable.”

But animal rights group the International Fund for Animal Welfare warned hunts they must act within the law or face the consequences.

UK director Robbie Marsland said: “We have no problem at all with hunts meeting to enjoy a gallop through the countryside, over Christmas or at any other time, as long as this does not involve wild animals being cruelly chased and killed.”