HUNDREDS of people turned out to watch the spectacle of the Boxing Day Hunt gathering on the Abbey Green.
Huntsmen and women on horseback, from the East Sussex and Romney Marsh Hunt, wearing traditional ‘pinks’, processed down the High Street and gathered on the Abbey Green before setting off into the surrounding countryside for a drag-hunt.
It was one of more than 300 Boxing Day Hunts to be held across the country. And it could be that the Hunt returns in its full form in future years with the Government announcing that it intends to give MP’s a free vote on lifting the hunting ban.
It has been illegal to use dogs to hunt animals in England and Wales since 2005, and in Scotland since 2002.
Environment Secretary Owen Patterson announced that there would be a vote, but appeared to rule out it taking place in the near future.
He said: “We need to choose an appropriate moment”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed: “The coalition government pledged to put forward a motion to allow a free vote on the Hunting Act.
“This will take place at an appropriate time and if parliament were to vote in favour of repeal, the government would introduce a Repeal Bill in the House of Parliament in due course.”
Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, said “most people back Labour’s ban on hunting wild animals with dogs”.
“People are worried about their incomes falling, prices rising and losing their jobs, yet this out of touch Tory-led government wants to bring back hunting,” she said.
The RSPCA’s Gavin Grant said the organisation had “no arguments with people who want to ride their horses with their dogs in the glories of our countryside”.
“But we’re totally opposed - as are the vast majority of the people in this country - to anybody who’s going out there, deliberately, to abuse animals and to tear them to shreds,”
Hunts are no longer allowed to use dogs to chase down foxes, but are instead supposed to use techniques such as drag hunting, where dogs set off on the trail of a scent laid about 20 minutes in advance by a runner or rider dragging a lure.
Animal welfare charities, including the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), have commissioned research which suggests that only 15 percent of people want to scrap the ban.
But the Countryside Alliance says it has seen no slackening of support for hunting in recent years.
Executive chairman Sir Barney White-Spunner said: “I’m absolutely confident the act will be repealed and I think in the meantime the country people trust that the prime minister will deliver what he can.”
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