THOUSANDS of supporters turned out as riders saddled up for Boxing Day hunts across Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

Hundreds of spectators gathered at The Raven Hotel in Droitwich for the Worcestershire Hunt's meet.

Some wore signs saying Scrap the Act - referring to the Hunting Act which came into force in February 2005 - making it illegal to hunt wild mammals with dogs.

Joint master David Palmer said they were trail hunting' - following an artificial trail which is one of the exemptions in the act.

He said support for hunting had grown even more, and they had more youngsters involved than ever before.

He addressed the meet, where there were about 100 horses, saying: "Ladies and gentlemen, all over the British Isles today nearly 300 packs of hounds are meeting for their Boxing Day meet where they always have met.

"Thanks to people like you who have given us your wonderful support.

"If you keep coming then so will we and we will see off this ridiculous bill that is trying to emasculate our sport."

And Wychavon District Council chairwoman Jean Dowty added: "I welcomed the hunt on behalf of the council, they have never been welcomed before.

"They bring thousands of people to the centre of Droitwich.

"When you are riding down the road there's people cheering as you go past, it brings a tear to your eye.

"It was time they were welcomed here on behalf of the council."

Meanwhile, in the Herefordshire town of Ledbury, hundreds of supporters lined the High Street as about 100 riders departed from outside The Feathers Hotel.

Spokesman for the hunt, Donald Haden, said: "The Ledbury Hunt has been meeting outside The Feathers by the crossroads here for at least 200 years."

"We are carrying on and nobody's going to stop us," he added, referring to the Hunting Act.

"It is a tremendous turnout - it's increased because people in the rural community want to show their support for a traditional rural activity andshow their determination to support us in every way to see this dreadful hunting act overturned."

However Mr Haden said they would be acting within the law, following an artificial trail and doing their best to stop the dogs if a fox should appear.

The North Ledbury Hunt departed from the Red Lion in Cradley with about 40 riders and 500 supporters.

Meanwhile the Croome and West Warwickshire's, which departed from Pershore Town Square, attracted about 60 riders.

One of the masters, Robin Palmer, said: "I think there were about 1,400 to 1,500 who turned out lining the streets, which was nice and there was no trouble whatsoever."

The Clifton-on-Teme hunt, which met at the Hop Pole in Bromyard, was well attended by 46 riders.

Joint master Clare Hill said: "The numbers were up on last year and there were lots and lots of people on foot.

"The hounds are following the trail quite nicely."

Nationally a record number of 300,000 people are believed to have taken part in about 314 UK hunts.

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