HUNTS are gathering across the county today for the traditional Boxing Day meeting.

Hunts say the sport has grown in popularity since they were banned from killing foxes in February 2005 and recent years have seen hundreds of supporters turning out to watch the riders set off.

The Middleton Hunt will be having its traditional meet at Malton Market Place at 11am before moving on to Old Malton. It also holds a meet at the same time at Driffield Showground.

The Saltersgate Farmers’ Hunt will be at the Fox & Rabbit pub at Lockton, near Pickering, at 10.45am while the Derwent Hunt will meet at the Manor House, Brompton at 11am.

Charles Bader, who rides with the Middleton Hunt, said the Boxing Day meet was so popular it had to be split into two so that all the supporters can attend.

Mr Bader said: “There is a lot of support on Boxing Day and the Middleton Hunt has two meets because of it. The pack has been split into two over the years so we can get to all our supporters.”

But Douglas Batchelor, the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, does not believe the sport has become more popular.

He said that every year since the ban on hunting came into force the Countryside Alliance routinely claimed hunting was attracting more support than in the years leading up to the ban.

Mr Batchelor said: “If hunts are hunting legally, as they claim to be, and attracting record support, why on earth do they want a repeal of the Hunting Act and why are they so reluctant to be monitored?

He said the league would be monitoring hunts up and down the country over the Christmas period.