The chairman of a Yorkshire hunting group has said the activity is “well supported” as annual Boxing Day events took place in the region.
Among the 250 meets due to take place across the country today was The Badsworth and Bramham Moor Hounds events at Aberford in Leeds and Wentbridge near Pontefract, as well as the separate Middleton Hunt in North Yorkshire.
Hundreds turned out for the West Yorkshire events which were blessed with fine weather despite early signs of rain.
It comes after the Countryside Alliance released a survey of registered hunts showing more women and young people taking part in legal activity such as “trail” hunting than 10 years ago.
The events also took place amid an on going public debate about whether hunting is ethical.
Andrew McCloy, chairman of The Badsworth and Bramham Moor Hounds, who attended the Wentbridge hunt, said that around 55 mounted participants attended that meet with “hundreds” of spectators out to watch the event.
He said: “We seem to be well supported by all kinds of different people. The Boxing Day meets are very light hearted. We park the hounds and children are welcome to come up and get licked and have a stroke.
“We have been doing trail hunting since 2005 and we have got the hang of it now.”
Trail hunting involves hounds and riders following a scent that has been laid earlier.
He said there was evidence of more younger people and women taking part in hunts at the group’s events yesterday.
The Countryside Alliance said a survey of hunts found 70 per cent of hunts had more women hunting and 54 per cent had more young people than they did a decade ago.
Mr McCloy, 57, said: “I think it’s such an long time since hunting happened in the way it used to happen – we’ve been trail hunting for 12 or 13 years now – that the newcomers don’t know what it used to be like and are happy with what it’s like now.”
Oliver Kent, aged 30, of Wetherby, is a fellow member.
Explaining the appeal of hunting, he said: “It’s fun. You get to gallop through the farmers fields, jump ditches and hedges which in any other circumstances you wouldn’t be able to. There is a great thrill in galloping on the horse and it is great fun for the horses as well. It’s good for them. It gives them confidence for eventing and is good for their fitness.
“There is no pressure whereas when you go competing you are always trying to win. When I go hunting I can be in the saddle for four or five hours.
“There is no other time when you get to spend that long riding so it’s good for my own fitness, balance and riding muscles. It is a bit more about the atmosphere on Boxing Day.”
A survey of 2,003 people by Ipsos MORI for the League Against Cruel Sports released yesterday found that 85 per cent did not think fox hunting should be made legal again, while opposition to legalising deer hunting stood at 87 per cent, and hare hunting and coursing at 90 per cent. Opposition to legalising fox hunting had risen from 73 per cent in 2008 to 85 per cent this year, the animal welfare organisation said.
The league spoke to 173 people in Yorkshire.
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance said: “This is completely discredited polling designed with a biased question which should be ignored.”
He added that the real measure of public opinion was the numbers that came out to spectate.
Hunting returned to the headlines during the snap general election, when Prime Minister Theresa May promised a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act ban, but failed to win a parliamentary majority.
And members of the National Trust narrowly voted against a bid to prevent trail hunting on the organisation’s land, proposed amid concerns the practice was allowing illegal hunting of foxes and other animals.
On Sunday it was reported that Mrs May is to abandon her pledge to give MPs a free vote on whether to overturn the fox hunting ban.