A RECORD number of people are expected to take part in today's traditional Boxing Day hunts, nine of which will be in Scotland.
The Countryside Alliance, the pro-hunting lobby group, estimated a record 250,000 people will turn out to more than 300 fox hunts across Britain.
Its sister organisation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, has also suggested there has been a growth in hunting.
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However, animal rights group, the League Against Cruel Sports, said there was no evidence of a significant growth in hunting and they insisted the law banning hunting with dogs was working. It comes as the league revealed the results of a poll which it said showed there was no appetite for any relaxation of the ban.
Ross Montague, director of Scottish Countryside Alliance, told The Herald he had seen a recent growth in hunting in Scotland, with new huntsmen taking part and hunts ranging over wider areas. In all, there are nine registered hunts in Scotland, with around 300-400 riders and hundreds more followers.
"I think especially in the Borders and possibly Lanark and Renfrewshire, they've all got new huntsmen on board and they're getting more people involved and more people out following," said Mr Montague.
He said he thought the rise could be ascribed to huntsmen retiring and younger people coming on board and spreading the word.
However, Louise Robertson, who heads campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports, suggested another explanation for any rise.
Before the ban – which was introduced in Scotland by the Protection of Wild Mammals Act 2002 and in England by the Hunting Act 2004 – foxes could be killed by dogs whereas now, the foxes must be flushed out and shot. Ms Robertson said this change could mean people who would not have considered taking part in a hunt before the ban might now feel able to do so.
She said: "Because of the way hunts operate now there isn't that real horrible animal cruelty element, so you're not getting to the end of the hunt and watching the dogs tearing the fox apart and then blooding with the tail and all of that. So there are probably people – horsey people – who want to go out and enjoy the freedom of riding across country with a group that perhaps wouldn't have done so before because of the cruelty and who now can justify it a bit more."
Even so, Ms Robertson said there was still a minority of hunters in England determined to reverse the ban, but there was no similar pressure in Scotland, where she said there was widespread acceptance of the law as it stands.
Mr Montague agreed this was the position in Scotland. "There are always people who will want to see the ban overturned, but they are the minority of hunting people in Scotland," he said. "The law works. It still allows you to use a pack of hounds and cross country. It's just that the hounds are flushing foxes with the intention that they be shot."
The League Against Cruel Sports also said their new poll, published today, shows only a small minority see the repeal of the ban on hunting as a priority.
The league listed the Coalition Government's five pledges on animal welfare and asked which was the most and least important.
Only 6% of those who participated said a free vote in Parliament on the repeal of the Hunting Act as it applies in England was the most important.
"We think the law is working," said Ms Robertson. "There is no public appetite to repeal the ban and it would be such a backward step. In Scotland, there's simply no talk of repealing the legislation. It's not on the agenda."