HOUNDS and horses were out in force to mark the first meeting of the fox hunting season.

Traditional country sports enthusiasts met across the region on Saturday as the new season began.

One of the day’s hunts was the York and Ainsty South Hunt.

More than 130 people attended – despite the Hunting Act 2004 preventing hunting with hounds, which many thought might spell the end of the tradition.

Under the Act, someone is breaking the law and faces a maximum £5,000 fine if he or she “hunts a wild mammal with a dog”.

Exemptions to the hunting ban include hunting an artificial scent trail, exercising hounds, and using no more than two dogs to flush a wild animal to be shot or killed by a bird of prey.

Rob Warriner, chairman of the York and Ainsty South Hunt supporters club, said hunting was as popular as ever and said no animals were chased by the hounds involved in Saturday’s meet.

“We had an excellent turn out,” he said. “The hunting ban doesn’t seem to have done anything to affect our numbers, both in terms of people riding out and people on foot and spectators coming to see the hunt off. Support is as strong as ever.”

Saturday saw about 30 hunters on horseback with accompanying hounds and another 100 following on foot. Mr Warriner said there were no anti-hunt protesters in attendance. “It was a very good start to the season,” he said. “The weather was nice, the perfect kind to be riding in.

“We set off at about 11am and we stayed out until 4pm, so we had a good five hours, covering a good area including Easingwold and Crayke.”

The York and Ainsty South hunt will be meeting every Tuesday and Saturday until the middle of March.

Other hunts included the Middleton Hunt, which met near Malton.