HUNDREDS of people turned out to see one of North Yorkshire’s most picturesque Christmas countryside traditions – the Boxing Day hunt.

About 40 riders gathered in Malton’s Market Place for the start of the Middleton Hunt. Another group set off from Driffield Showground.

Other meets by the Farndale Hunt and the Pendle Forest And Craven Hunt, as well as a meet in Bedale, were due to take place yesterday.

Joanna Newitt, treasurer of the Middleton Hunt’s supporters’ club, said: “We make five stops as we follow a trail around Malton and there were about 1,000 people in the market place to see the start of the meet.”

“It is a tradition at this time of the year and we have had a lot of support from people getting out and about on Boxing Day, including many families.

“It has been a very good turnout, helped by the mild weather.” Despite a legal ban on foxhunting, at least 300 hunts were taking place across the UK yesterday on one of the biggest days in the pursuit’s season. More than a million people were expected to attend.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was quoted as saying that there was no immediate prospect of the 2005 ban on hunting with dogs being repealed.

He said a free vote was intended at the “appropriate moment” but hunt supporters must do more to convince sceptics that the law should be changed.

Sir Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman of the Countryside Alliance, said he was “confident” the ban would end in the long-term.

However, the League Against Cruel Sports yesterday published the results of a poll carried out on its behalf, as well as for the RSPCA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which claimed 76 per cent of those asked said they opposed legalising hunting with dogs.