A group of around 50 protestors were among a large crowd which greeted riders taking part in the traditional New Year hunt meeting in Melton yesterday morning (Wednesday)
The town’s Play Close park played host to the event, with many onlookers applauding as members of Cottesmore Hunt gathered ahead of a day’s trail hunting in the area.
They were there by invitation of Melton Mowbray Town Estate and senior townwarden, Ian Wilkinson, handed out drinks in stirrup cups to huntsmen and women as the hounds waited around them.
Despite the appearance of the saboteurs, who chanted and waved placards, Cottesmore secrtary Clare Bell, said it did not dampen the mood.
She told the Melton Times: “We were really thrilled with the turnout and the support from local people in Melton and the surrounding area - they were absolutely brilliant.
“The welcome from people in the town centre was lovely.”
The party of around 52 hunters, including some children and young people, met at 11am and hacked off about 20 minutes later, following trails around Burton Lazars, including the site of the old leper hospital.
Ms Bell added: “We jumped a few ditches and had a few fallers but we had a great day.
“Play Close is such a brilliant place to meet because you can cordon it all off and people can see us and watch safely.
“We were so grateful for the support in Melton because hunting is having a hard time at the moment.”
Referring to the vociferous protests on the day, she commented: “They are so against hunting and most of them live in cities and not in the countryside.
“They just seem to have this problem with us and I don’t think we will ever change their minds.
“Some of the language they were using in front of children was shocking.
“But we are keeping our heads up and continuing to enjoy hunting our trails.”
Ms Bell added: “Together with the Belvoir and the Quorn Hunts we support local businesses, we employ people and we are intrinsic to the local community in the Melton area.
“The saboteurs don’t seem to realise that.
“People from all different walks of life ride with us - we had a lorry driver and his daughter with us on New Year’s Day and lots of people from different backgrounds.”
Hertfordshire Hunt Saboteurs, which had people in attendance to protest, alleged on social media that one of their female members was assaulted by a member of the hunt but Leicestershire Police said it had not had any complaints of assaults following the event.
The Hunting Act 2004 brought in a ban on the hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales.
Hunts continue to meet with members on foot or horseback following a scent along a pre-determined route with hounds - the aim is to replicate a traditional hunt but without a fox being chased and killed.
But the League Against Cruel Sports says it has received 184 reports of suspected illegal fox hunting nationwide since the season began in late October.
It has this week pledged to continue to lobby MPs to strengthen the Hunting Act and remove loopholes which it says still allow hunts to get away with killing foxes.
Chris Luffingham, the League’s director of campaigns, said: The 14-year campaign to repeal the fox hunting ban hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of success.
“There has been a sea change in the way the fox hunting debate is being framed and with the ban now secure, our emphasis has shifted towards the strengthening of the Hunting Act.”
Melton is renowed as the cradle of foxhunting in this country with hunts having met in the town for 350 years.
The boundaries of the Belvoir, Quorn and Cottesmore Hunts converge on Melton and they take it in turns to meet in the town at New Year.