Thousands expected to join Boxing Day hunts

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LONDON (Reuters) - More than a quarter of a million people are expected to take part in Boxing Day hunts despite restrictions imposed two years ago, foxhunting supporters said on Wednesday.

More than 300 registered local hunts are due to meet across the country, reflecting a revival in the sport’s popularity, the Countryside Alliance said.

It has called for the repeal of the Hunting Act 2005, which allows dogs to be used to follow a scent but bans the use of hounds to kill the fox.

“Hunting is as happy, prosperous and hopeful as it has been for a decade,” said Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance. “With growing support from MPs and candidates of all political parties the hunting ban is on borrowed time.”

Anti-hunting groups, which describe the sport as cruel and outdated, say the ban remains popular among the general public.

Mike Hobday, who speaks for The League Against Cruel Sports, said he doubted the Hunting Act would be overturned.

“What we hope is that the British public will continue to take the view that just as there are laws to support domestic animals from cruelty, that there are (laws protecting) farm animals from cruelty, so will support the laws that protect wild animals from cruelty,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“There is no reason for people to go out there and break the Hunting Act. They can go drag hunting, they can follow an artificial scent. They can have all the fun they want in the countryside without engaging in cruelty.”

Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Tim Pearce