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Britons take part in 2006 Boxing Day fox hunt

Thousands of Britons turned out Tuesday for annual Boxing Day fox hunts, organizers said.
Foxhunts Gather For Traditional Boxing Day Meet
Hounds look up to the hunt master with the Avon Vale Hunt as they prepare to ride out on their traditional Boxing Day hunt on Tuesday in Lacock, England.Matt Cardy / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thousands of Britons turned out Tuesday for annual Boxing Day fox hunts, organizers said.

More than 300,000 people were thought to have taken part in more than 300 such hunts across Britain, according to the Countryside Alliance, which represents hunting enthusiasts.

"We think we've had a record turnout this year," Alliance spokeswoman Charlotte Fiander said. "We were expecting a big turnout as there is a lot of support for hunting across the country."

Fox hunting, which dates back centuries in Britain, historically involved groups of riders following a pack of hounds trained to track down and kill foxes.

Britain banned the sport in 2004 after a bitter fight in Parliament and raucous demonstrations in the streets.

More than 2,000 people turned out with the Beaufort Hunt in Gloucestershire, said Jo Aldridge, a spokeswoman for the event.

"The hunt was extremely well attended — it took us by surprise to some extent," she said.

In Droitwich, more than 2,000 people turned out for the Worcester Hunt, while near the capital, some 3,000 people turned out for a hunt in Buckinghamshire.

"Support like this so close to London shows that hunting isn't some sort of weird rural tradition that is dying out," said Gerald Sumner, who was participating in the hunt. "Hunting is more popular in the southeast of England than it has ever been."

Supporters say fox hunting is a vital rural tradition and an important way of controlling predators. Opponents consider it cruel, unnecessary and a preserve of the upper classes.

Traditional fox hunts outlawed
The Hunting Act, which took effect on Feb. 18, 2005, outlaws traditional fox hunting and other sports in which dogs chase and kill prey.

Under the law, dogs can be used to locate a fox and drive it out into open ground, but not to harm the animal, which is shot instead. Many hunts have been reformed into trail or drag hunting, in which dogs track an animal scent that has been artificially laid out through the woods in advance.

The anti-hunting group League Against Cruel Sports said it had no objection to the hunts, provided they were staged within the limits of the law.

In a statement, the group said it had created its own watchdog unit to help crack down on illegal hunting.