THOUSANDS of supporters turned out as riders saddled up for the annual festive hunts across Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

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

Hunt master David Palmer said they were trail hunting' - following an artificial trail, which is one of the exemptions in the Hunting Act, which came into force in February 2005. The act makes it illegal to hunt wild mammals with dogs.

He said: "Support for the hunt has grown since the act came in. Today we have the best part of 100 riders and a couple of thousand or so spectators. It is just wonderful to see so many people here supporting us."

Meanwhile, in the Herefordshire town of Bromyard more than 300 people turned out to see the Clifton-on-Teme hunt.

About 55 riders set out through the countryside, which was also a trail-hunt.

Joint master Clare Hill said: "The numbers are up again this year, so it goes to show the level of support. It has been really brilliant and the hounds have been following the trail nicely."

In Ledbury, hundreds of supporters lined the High Street as about 100 riders departed from outside The Feathers Hotel for its annual Boxing Day hunt.

Hundreds of spectators lined the streets of Upton-upon-Severn as a record number of horses and riders turned out for the Croome and West Warwickshire Christmas Eve hunt.

Diana Ralph, joint master of foxhounds, said: "It went really well, I think we had the best turn out of horses and riders since 2000, with nearly 100.

The hunt also set off from Pershore today for its annual Boxing Day hunt.

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

.For more hunt quotes and pictures see Thursday's Worcester News.