More than 250 hunts have met for the annual Boxing Day event after Prime Minister Theresa May U-turned over plans for a vote on scrapping the ban.
Hundreds of people lined the streets in Elham in Kent and Ledbury in Herefordshire to watch the men and women, wearing their ‘hunting pink’, parade through the villages before taking part in the hunt.
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage was seen laughing while he made his way to the hunt meeting point in Chiddingstone Castle, Kent.
The event comes as Mrs May is set to abandon her Conservative general election manifesto pledge to give MPs a free vote on whether to overturn the fox hunting ban.
The East Kent and West Street hunt set off for the traditional Boxing Day meet from the village of Elham in Kent on Monday
Hundreds of people gathered in Ledbury, Herefordshire, and spectators watched the men and women ride down the street
The East Kent and West Street hunt set off for the traditional Boxing Day meet from the village of Elham in Kent on Tuesday
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage was photographed laughing and smiling as he arrived at the hunt meeting point at Chiddingstone Castle in Kent
The Hunting Act was introduced by the Labour Party in 2004 which outlawed the hunting of animals including foxes and deer with dogs.
A recent survey found 85 per cent do not think hunting should be made legal again and Mrs May is set to announce next year that she will not go ahead with the vote.
It comes as the Countryside Alliance said hunting was younger and more diverse than it had ever been.
A survey of registered hunts showed more women and young people were taking part in legal hunts such as ‘trail’ hunting than 10 years ago.
Baroness Ann Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance, said the hunting ban ‘has little to do with animals or their welfare’, adding the anti-hunting lobby is about a ‘hatred of people’.
But polling for the League Against Cruel Sports showed continued widespread opposition to repealing the Hunting Act.
Hunting returned to the headlines during the snap general election, when Mrs May promised a free vote on repealing the ban to the consternation of campaigners, but failed to win a parliamentary majority.
But according to the Sunday Times, she will announce plans to permanently drop the commitment to a House of Commons vote, in a move which would risk infuriating rural Tories.
A Downing Street source described the report as ‘pure speculation’, but reiterated the Government’s position: ‘There is no vote that could change the current policy on fox hunting scheduled in this session of Parliament’, which ends in 2019.
Baroness Mallalieu wrote in the Telegraph: ‘There can be no logical justification for such a ridiculous law, so what was the real motivation for the ban?
‘If that was not already obvious, the admission of one MP, as soon as the law was passed, that it was ‘class war’, and the subsequent continuing campaigns against hunts that are no longer hunting foxes, can leave only one conclusion.
‘The anti-hunting movement is not really about the welfare of animals, it is about a hatred of people, and so it continues its obsessive pursuit of hunts.’
The National Trust has brought in new measures for licensing legal hunts on its land, including forbidding laying fox-based scents which can lead to foxes being accidentally hunted.
Hundreds of people lined the streets in Ledbury High Street for the annual festive meet of the Boxing Day Ledbury Hunt
Spectators watched as hunt members, in their ‘pink’ hunting coats, gathered outside the Feathers Hotel, just as they have done for generations in Ledbury, Herefordshire
Crowds gathered for the Boxing Day hunt in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, on Tuesday and watched the riders on horses
Men and women arrived on horseback in Tenterden, Kent, on Tuesday morning to take part in the annual Boxing Day hunt
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 10 years ago.
More than 94 per cent of hunts had members in every age category, while three-quarters of hunts (74 per cent) had at least one female master of foxhounds, the organisation said.
Countryside Alliance’s head of hunting, Polly Portwin, said: ‘Hunting has always been the most accessible of activities and these figures show exactly how diverse it is.
‘There is certainly more equality in the hunting field than in most walks of life.
‘Many hunts now have more female subscribers than men and it is wonderful to see new generations taking up hunting.
‘The future of hunting is secure when so many young people are joining the hunting field.’
A survey of 2,003 people by Ipsos MORI for the League Against Cruel Sports 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.
Director of policy, communications and campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports Chris Luffingham criticised the portrayal of Boxing Day hunts as a ‘celebration of a great tradition with huge public support’.
And he said: ‘With 85 per cent of the public saying they do not want fox hunting made legal again, there has never been a better time to strengthen the Hunting Act and bring an end to the illegal persecution of wildlife still going on under the guise of ‘trail’ hunting.’
League Against Cruel Sports chief executive Eduardo Goncalves said: ‘It’s nearly 2018, not 1818, so it’s a little strange we’re celebrating because a government has renounced fox hunting. But yet, this is still good news.
‘There’s been a shift this year, as the government has realised quite how important it is to recognise the compassionate nature of the British public.
‘The cynical will say that this statement won’t hold in the future when the pro hunting lobby exerts its influence once more, so we shall have to see if an anti-hunting stance is indeed the future of the Conservative party, or a tactical move at a politically sensitive time.
‘For the sake of our animals we hope it’s the former.’