Thousands out for Boxing Day hunts in Shropshire and Mid Wales
Thousands of people turned out across Shropshire and Mid Wales to take part in, or just cheer on, the county's traditional Boxing Day hunts.
The region's five hunts all met at 11am yesterday in towns and villages where the streets were lined with supporters and visitors keen to see the spectacle.
This year's events took place as Environment Secretary and North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson said there was no imminent prospect of a Parliamentary vote on repealing the hunting ban.
Mr Paterson, a keen supporter of country sports including hunting, appeared to rule out bringing the issue before the Commons next year.
- Albrighton Hunt
- North Shropshire Hunt
- Ludlow Hunt
He said: "There's only a point having a vote if you're going to win.
"At the moment, it would not be my proposal to bring forward a vote we were going to lose. There needs to be more work done on Members of Parliament."
He added: "It is our clear intention to have a free vote but we need to choose an appropriate moment."
Mr Paterson spoke as an estimated 300 Boxing Day hunts gathered up and down the country for the busiest day of the season, despite the ban on hunting with dogs passed under Labour in 2005.
There are currently 320 registered hunts in England but they are barred from deliberately running foxes or deer to their deaths.
Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, said: "The thousands of people who turn out to support hunt meets across the country show how rural people have remained solidly behind their hunts in the face of the ban.
"But the current situation is unsustainable and the hunting issue must be properly resolved. Tackling the failed Hunting Act is a matter of trust between David Cameron, his government and the countryside."
The Albrighton Hunt met as usual at The Royal Victoria Hotel in St Mary's Street, Newport, but this year's event was tinged with sadness following the death of member Ray Shaw.
A meeting of the hunt which should have taken place on December 15 was cancelled as a mark of respect for the huntsman, who was found dead at his home in Kennels Lane, Albrighton, after he failed to turn up to a meet.
Hunt secretary Julian Hill said a collection was held at the Boxing Day hunt for both Cancer Research and Mr Shaw's family.
Mr Hill said a tribute to Mr Shaw would be held in the near future and added: "Ray was on all our minds on Boxing Day."
Mr Shaw was responsible for getting the hounds and horses ready for hunt meetings. He walked the hounds each day and was involved in breeding horses.
The hunt was meeting at the Dartmouth Arms in Burnhill Green, near Albrighton, when Mr Shaw failed to turn up with the hounds.
Other members of the hunt then broke down his door and found him dead in his bed.
Yesterday's Albrighton meeting brought about 3,000 on-lookers who saw more than 50 riders take part in what is one of the county's biggest hunts.
The Albrighton Hunt, which formed in 1829, is also one of the county's oldest and Mr Hill said it continued to be well supported, although the continual downpours of rain had made the ground tricky for riders and they all had to take extra care.
The North Shropshire Hunt met at Albrighton Hall Hotel, near Shrewsbury, where hundreds of followers turned out, but spokeswoman Fiona Rowland said the bad weather had slightly dented the number of riders attending.
She said: "The last couple of meetings we have had have seen a fall in numbers because of the weather.
"The hunt is still as popular and well supported as ever, though."
The South Shropshire Hunt gathered at the Red Lion in Longden Common, also near Shrewsbury. In the south, the Ludlow Hunt met at Ludlow Castle while over in Mid-Wales up to 50 horses were on show at the Tanataside Hunt.
There, between six and eight hundred supporters saw the riders off from the Royal Oak Hotel in Welshpool.
More than 250,000 people turned out to support more than 300 UK hunts around the country on Boxing Day, according to the Countryside Alliance.
The hunts included mounted foxhound and harrier packs as well as beagles.
An alliance spokesman said: "Boxing Day is the biggest day in the hunting calendar and the number of regular riders and supporters was boosted by those spending Christmas in the countryside and enjoying the sight and experience of this very traditional rural pastime."
- Star Comment: Getting the right result is priority
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