THE first hunts of the season have taken place in the North East, with hundreds of riders and hounds turning out on its opening day.
The Tynedale and Zetland hunts met yesterday, and the Morpeth and Percy Hunts will meet next weekend. Others across the region are due to get underway over the next week.
Hunt members and supporters are optimistic that the Hunting Act 2004 will be repealed, but one animal rights group said that was nothing more than a “pipedream”.
Northumberland farmer Richard Dodd, who is also the Countryside Alliance’s spokesman for the North, was among 200 supporters at the first meeting of Tynedale Hunt at Capheaton Hall, Northumberland, on Saturday.
He admitted a vote on repeal is a long way down the list of the coalition Government’s priorities, but believes change will come.
Mr Dodd, of Belsay, Northumberland, said: “There was a very big turnout with around 120 horses and another 200 in the crowd, including lots of farmers.
“That’s about normal for the first meeting, which is rather like the first day of the Premier League for people in the countryside.
“Hunting to us isn’t just about fox control, it’s also a social event for us because we haven’t got the pubs, theatres and nightclubs that you have in the cities.
“We are moving into harder times so the Government have got bigger foxes to chase at the moment, but when they can get round to it they will address the issue. It’s just going to take a while.”
The Conservative Party’s election manifesto promised a free vote on a Government Bill to repeal the Act.
The League Against Cruel Sports, which is wants the ban to stay, believes any vote in Parliament to repeal the Act would be lost by 66 votes. Its chief executive, Douglas Batchelor, said: “There is no real appetite in the coalition to bring back a bloodsport.
“Hunters facing court cases, increasing numbers of convictions, public revulsion at the slaughter of wildlife and a Commons firmly against repeal of the Act send a strong message to the hunting community that illegal hunting will not be tolerated, and repeal is nothing but a pipedream.’’
The International Fund for Animal Welfare warned hunts to stay within the law. Prosecutions under the Hunting Act are at their highest level yet at 145, with conviction rates for 2009 double those of 2008.