TRADITIONAL Boxing Day hunts met in town centres across Herefordshire today.

With hunts traditionally not meeting on Sundays, they were moved to this morning (Monday, December 27) instead.

In Ledbury, the High Street was closed from 10.15am to 11.15am while the hunt gathered, with New Street also closing at 11am.

The top of the market town was bustling with Ledbury Hunt’s horsemen, hounds and supporters before the hunt set off at around 11am.


The Ross Harriers also met in Ross-on-Wye town centre at 11am, with Broad Street shut from 10.30am until 11.45pm.

In Kington, the Radnorshire and West Herefordshire Hunt met in the Mill Street area at 11am, with the road closed between 10.30am and 11.45pm.

And in Bromyard, where the Clifton-on-Teme Hunt meets, the Square and Twyning Street were shut from 12.30am until midday, with hounds, riders and horses meeting at 11am.

Hunts are still legal in England and Wales, providing a scent trail is used.

But the National Trust, Natural Resources Wales and Malvern Hills Trust have banned trail hunting from their land over recent months amid concerns over law-breaking.

There is some strong opposition to hunts, which are sometimes accused of hunting live foxes and not just pre-laid scent.

Ledbury Town Council voted six to four not to call on Herefordshire Council to block a bid by the Ledbury Hunt to have roads in the town closed for its riders and dogs earlier this month.

Liberal Democrats councillor Matthew Eakin had put forward a motion that the council take no action to facilitate the hunt, due to evidence cited by the Malvern Hills Trust of systematic violations of the rules around trail hunting, and lack of consultation by the hunt.

“The issue is what we want this town to be associated with,” Coun Eakin told the meeting.

“We shouldn’t be glorifying the aesthetics of blood sports.”

Tom Leeke, of the Ledbury Hunt, had earlier conceded the hunt had made “honest mistakes” in the past, but that the Boxing Day event was a historic and much-loved piece of pageantry in the town.

Backing the motion, deputy mayor and fellow Lib Dem Coun Phillip Howells said: “There is a sense of entitlement, that they can do what they like. Blood sports are a major cause of loss of biodiversity.”

Coun Tony Bradford, who opposed it, said: “We have traditions, and some bad ones have gone. But they aren’t harming people.

"I wouldn’t chase round after a scent, but they have the freedom to do it.”

Also opposing, Coun Dee Knight said that while she would keep her own views on hunting to herself, it was “upsetting more people in the town turn up turn up for the Boxing Day meet than for Remembrance Sunday”.

Polly Portwin, director of hunting for the Countryside Alliance which campaigns for field sports, said: “The decision taken by town councillors is the correct one and I hope the meet will continue for many more years to come.”

A Herefordshire Council spokesperson said before Christmas: “We are aware that hunts may wish to meet in various locations in Herefordshire over the coming Christmas period.

"The council are in receipt of road closure applications from various hunt groups for events in Bromyard, Ledbury, Ross and Kington.

"Provided our highways team are correctly notified of any request for a road closure we do not differentiate between the different types of event that may take place under temporary road closures. The applications are being assessed and progressed based on the information provided in line with the relevant legislation.

“We expect all hunts to be totally compliant with the national legislation in relation to the Hunting Act 2004 and any related legislation.

"Any prohibited activity should be reported to the police to investigate as Herefordshire Council has no statutory authority in respect of the Hunting Act 2004.”

National animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports has renewed its calls for hunting to be stopped on public land.

The charity’s calls have been echoed by Labour, who on Boxing Day also urged government departments such as the Ministry of Defence to end trail hunting licences on their land.

The charity said hunts claim to follow animal-based scent rather than chase foxes and other wild animals, but the conviction of Mark Hankinson, a senior hunting official, for encouraging or assisting others to break the Hunting Act 2004.

The charity said this showed that trail hunting is a “smokescreen” for old-fashioned illegal hunting.

Chris Luffingham, director of external affairs at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “We know, and it has been found in court, that hunters use the excuse of so-called trail hunting to carry on as they always have.

“Their breathtaking arrogance in thinking the rules simply don’t apply to them cannot be tolerated by the general public any longer, who are getting very adept at seeing through the pathetic smokescreen of half truths and lies.

“Enough is enough."