Thousands of riders and supporters have turned out for traditional Boxing Day hunts across the country, but scuffles have broken out at several hunts between supporters and placard-wielding protesters.
Riders in hunting pink and packs of hounds – following scent trails laid in advance to comply with the 2004 Hunting Act forbidding the hunting of foxes with hounds – set out under cloudy skies to maintain a tradition going back hundreds of years.
But in Sussex, Leicestershire and Wales bad-tempered scuffles and violent outbursts flared, with police stepping in to separate the two sides.
At Bolton’s Bench in Lyndhurst, Hampshire, crowds of supporters on foot could be seen following riders on horseback at the annual New Forest Boxing Day hunt.
In Sussex scuffles broke out between anti-hunt protesters and hunt supporters as the Southdown and Eridge Foxhounds parade through Lewes on Boxing Day morning
Anti-hunt protesters make their views clear in the market square in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, earlier today.
Trouble started when hunt supporters tried to grab the anti-hunt protester’s banners. One eye-witness said two thousand hunt supporters lined the Lewes high street, and a group of around ten protesters making their opposition clear. As they waved their banners in front of the riders, some hunt supporters tried to grab the placards
In Sussex scuffles broke out between anti-hunt protesters and hunt supporters as the Southdown and Eridge Foxhounds parade through Lewes on Boxing Day morning.
Trouble started when hunt supporters tried to grab the anti-hunt protester’s banners.
One eye-witness told MailOnline around two thousand hunt supporters lined the high street in Lewes, with a group of around ten protesters making their opposition clear.
As they waved their banners in front of the riders, some hunt supporters tried to grab the placards leading to police stepping in to separate the two sides.
In Market Bosworth, anti-hunt protesters made their views clear in the market square with a sign reading ‘For fox sake hunters, foxtrot off’.
And a video emerged of angry supporters clashing with protesters outside the Tredegar Arms, in Bassaleg just outside Newport in Wales, as the annual hunt set off. At one point a horse is forced close to the point of trampling onlookers.
The pack tries to pick up the scent at the New Forest Hounds Boxing Day Hunt at Bolton’s Bench in Lyndhurst, Hampshire
Dogs, horses, and hundreds of supporters turned out to celebrate the annual Boxing Day event in the New Forest
As hounds bounded after the scent trail, riders followed behind and supporters watched from high ground in Hampshire
Hunting foxes with hounds was outlawed by the Blair government but the countryside tradition has been kept alive by hunts laying scent trails for the dogs to follow
In Peterborough, hopes were higher than ever that the day would pass without incident after several bad-tempered clashes between hunters and saboteurs in recent years.
The Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt which has been running since the 18th Century, was granted a temporary injunction by a High Court judge last month and seven named protesters have agreed not to trespass.
Operators of the hunt complained about trespass and made allegations of intimidation and harassment.
Hundreds of people attended the Essex Hunt meeting at Matching Green Essex this morning – and some enjoyed a wee dram to keep away the winter chill
The huntsman of the Essex Hunt blows his horn to start the hunt from the Chequers pub for the traditional Boxing Day meet
The Essex Hunt has met regularly in Matching Green since the early 19th century, although since the 2004 Hunting Act it has not been allowed to use dogs to chase and kill foxes
If any sabs do breach the injunction in Peterborough today they could be held in contempt of court and be at risk of imprisonment or a fine.
The protesters have signed legal documents stating they will only go on public rights of way running through the Milton Hall estate in Cambridgeshire, owned by joint Master Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland.
Polly Portwin, the Countryside Alliance’s Head of Hunting, told The Telegraph: ‘The Fitzwilliam Hunt have been forced to take action through the courts after years of being followed around by a group of obsessive animal rights activists that persistently trespass on private land in their attempt to disrupt the hunt carrying out their lawful hunting activities.
Henley Mills, 5, is sniffed by a hound as members of the Albrighton & Woodland Hunt gather at Hagley Hall near Stourbidge in the West Midlands for the Boxing Day hunt
Young Henley rode a Shetland pony to join in with the Albrighton & Woodland Hunt at Hagley Hall near Stourbidge
Picking up the scent: Since the 2004 fox hunt ban, hunters follow trails around the grounds where hounds sniff out the scent of foxes without any animals being harmed
Hunt supporters greet riders meeting for the Avon Vale Hunt’s traditional Boxing Day in Lacock near Chippenham in Wiltshire
Members of the Avon Vale Hunt set off from the village of Lacock in Wiltshire for the annual Boxing Day hunt
Experienced huntsmen and some riders new to the experience were cheered through the streets by supporters in Avon Vale
Former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, complete with trademark pint, cigarette and frayed Barbour jacket, was among supporters at the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent Boxing day Hunt meet at Chiddingstone Castle, Chiddingstone
‘The Hunting Act became law nearly 14 years ago yet animal rights activists remain obsessed with hunts and are angry that packs have maintained their infrastructure, their kennels, and their hounds.
‘Meanwhile the support in the rural community still thrives with a quarter of a million people expected to turn out to support hunts again on Boxing Day.’
All but one protester named in the temporary injunction signed the legal agreement, after it was agreed costs would not be pursued against them.
Riders of all ages took part in the parade through the market square in Market Bosworth while protesters, some with faces covered, held up placards
Granting the temporary injunction, Mr Justice Freedman said that he had ‘come to the view that the evidence as a whole does lead to a concern that without protection against trespass to land there is reason to be concerned about public order disturbances’ and ‘of the possibility of injury to people as well as injury or damage to or caused by animals becoming out of control’.
The judge outlined his decision in a ruling following a High Court hearing in London in which protesters had contested the complaints of trespass.
Mr Justice Freedman said claims and counter-claims could be fully analysed at a trial and added the injunctions might be lifted following any trial.
A group of anti-hunt demonstrators had their car smashed up on land used by the Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt
The back window of the car was shattered and several occupants claim to have received injuries from the broken glass
It is thought that the injunction is the first granted since the Hunting Act came into force in early 2005. The Crawley and Horsham Hunt in Sussex attempted similar action a decade ago but the case was abandoned.
In February, North Cambridgeshire Hunt Saboteurs Association were monitoring the Fitzwilliam Hunt when they were set upon by a handful of men in tweed flat caps in a narrow country lane.
Footage published by MailOnline shows the hunt saboteurs’ car surrounded by the high-powered vehicles, with one skidding in front of them to block them in, before four people jump out.
One then approaches the saboteur’s car with what appears to be a torch and smashes in several of their windows.
The decision to slap an injunction on protesters comes as saboteurs across the country have tried to force Boxing Day hunts onto private land by lobbying councils – arguing hunts breaches health and safety rules.
But the Countryside Alliance hit back by launching a campaign to protect Boxing Day meets.
It made the move after councils received detailed requests about preparations for their staging on council land.
Broadway Parish Council which hosts the North Cotswold Hunt and Dalston Parish Council, organiser of Cumberland Farmers Foxhounds – have received the requests for health and safety information,
However, pro-hunt campaigners say the health and safety tactic is a ‘cynical way of trying to stop rural people gathering and enjoying themselves at Christmas’.
Last month Grantham Labour Party told Lincolnshire Police it opposing the Boxing Day meet of the Belvoir Hunt and the mayor has now pulled out of the event.
Tetbury Town Council earlier this month declared that the Beaufort Hunt could no longer use its land after residents complained they were being forced to walk aside on narrow footpaths used by horses.
Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance said the anti-hunt movement is ‘driven by hatred of people’, as opposed to ‘any real interest in animal welfare’.
He added hunts have been ‘hunting artificial trails on Boxing Day since the law changed in 2005’ , but activists are still obsessed with attacking them.
The Hunting Act came into force on February 18, 2005, and banned the hunting of mammals with dogs in England and Wales.