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    The Boxing Day hunt meeting at Chiddingstone Castle, Kent, Britain

    Boxing Day Hunts Bring Calls for Return to Animal Cruelty

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    Ten years after fox hunting with dogs was banned, calls for the Hunting Act to be repealed have been dismissed as a “return to cruelty” on the day around 250,000 people were expected to show up for the Boxing Day meets of the 300 plus UK hunts.

    Every year at least a quarter of a million people turn out on December 26 to show their support for hunting on this traditional day on the UK calendar.

    The hunting of wild mammals (most notably foxes) with dogs in was banned in England and Wales in 2004. The act still allows drag hunting, where hounds are trained to follow an artificial scent. The pursuit of foxes with hounds was banned in Scotland in 2006, but it remains legal in Northern Ireland.

    Speaking ahead of the annual Boxing Day spectacle, Countryside Alliance executive chairman Barney White-Spunner said: "Ten years after the Hunting Act was passed in England and Wales more than 300 hunts are still here and still hunting.

    "Support for hunting is as strong as ever because people are determined not to bow to this prejudice. The Hunting Act does not protect foxes or other quarry species and has achieved nothing other than to waste hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money and thousands of hours of police time.

    "The next Government, of whatever political colour, needs to accept that the Hunting Act is not working and repeal or replace the Act."

    However, the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) disagrees.  It said that "A minority continues to call for a return to cruelty, and the forlorn hopes of the hunters are kept alive by comments from leading Government politicians".

    Animal welfare charity the RSPCA said it does not believe the fox is a general pest. "On the contrary, scientific evidence strongly suggests that foxes are a considerable economic asset for British arable farmers, saving them as much as £100 million each year by reducing the

    rabbit population. The RSPCA is satisfied that the hunted animal experiences considerable suffering," it said in a policy statement.

    Tories Split over "Complete Muddle" of Hunting Act

    Environment Secretary Liz Truss recently told the Sunday Express that she would support repealing the Hunting Act. "I personally would vote in favour of allowing fox hunting. I think it was a mistake, the Hunting Act, and I would vote for a repeal. We need to make sure that we have the votes to be able to do that. We have said we will put it before Parliament when time allows," she said.

    Her predecessor, Owen Paterson told the Shropshire Star: "It's a complete muddle that has been driven more by class warfare than animal welfare. Since the Act came into force, it has been widely documented that there has been a significant increase in the shooting of foxes, which have died in great misery.

    "I sat on the committees when the legislation was drawn up, and there was a lot of ignorance regarding this. I made a clear commitment to repealing the ban, and I would very much hope and expect that we will do that as soon as we can," he said.

    However, the Conservative Party is split on the issue of repealing the act.  Conservatives Against Fox Hunting (The Blue Fox Group), whose patrons are Conservative MPs Caroline Dinenage, Tracey Crouch, Mike Weatherley, David Amess, Dominic Raab and Sir Roger Gale, say the coursing and hunting of hares in the UK is not carried out because the hare is considered an agricultural pest but "largely for entertainment".

    The LACS said the Hunting Act works. "But foxes and other wildlife remain vulnerable to illegal hunting this Boxing Day if we do not act now," it said in a statement.

    According to the Countryside Alliance, around 45,000 people regularly follow hunts and at least 11,000 people are sustained by hunting — directly or indirectly, in jobs such as those of farriers, saddlers, vets and feed merchants.

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