THOUSANDS of people turned out to support traditional hunt meetings across Worcestershire.

In Pershore, a huge crowd of spectators cheered as more than 40 huntsmen and women, wearing their distinctive red riding jackets, gathered for the annual Croome and West Warwickshire Boxing Day meet on Broad Street “It was absolutely unbelievable,” said joint master of the hunt John Firkins.

“The police shut the road just in time for us to ride out and the crowd at the end of Broad Street spilled into the High Street.

“I turned to Patti Allen, who is joint master with me, and said, ‘Just look at that’. It was incredible. People were oozing off the pavement.

“We never get any antis [anti-hunt protesters] in Pershore. The cheering as we came out made the hair on my arms stand up.”

Riders of the Croome and West Warwickshire hunt gathered in Upton-upon-Severn on Thursday morning for their traditional Christmas Eve meet.

Members met outside the King’s Head at 10.30am, and rode through the riverside town before moving off. There was live music, as well as Father Christmas on horseback.

Joint hunt master Diana Ralph said: “There is always a good atmosphere and it is a very friendly town.”

The Christmas Eve meet has taken place in Upton for more than 10 years. Like those in Droitwich and Pershore it gives people not involved in hunting a chance to find out more about the rural pastime.

In Droitwich, members of the Worcestershire Hunt met outside the Raven Hotel. They were forced to leave the horses behind because the icy ground was too dangerous, but were still on hand to meet the public with the foxhounds.

Joint master David Palmer said: “It’s disappointing that we have had to come on foot. It was a last-minute decision not to bring the horses, but it’s just too icy and there was a good chance that someone would have an accident.

“Traditionally, the Boxing Day collection goes towards staff anyway and we still wanted to put on a show. We’ve got thousands of people here and we couldn’t disappoint them.”

Many supporters hope that this year’s meet will have been the last before the controversial fox hunting ban is repealed.

The ban on hunting with dogs came into force in February 2005, after a Private Member’s Bill launched by Worcester MP Mike Foster, but the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance believes that a change in government could lead to a repeal.

“We are hoping that this could be the last Boxing Day meet before it all changes,” said Mr Palmer.

It is estimated that more than 300 hunts took place across the UK today.

Research published by the Countryside Alliance showed 57 per cent of people believe the Hunting Act is not working and 49 per cent believe a new government should either repeal the Act or give Parliament a free vote on the ban.