HUNDREDS of supporters turned out today to wave off the Vale of Lune hunt at Tewitfield - the first time in three years that the Boxing Day meet has been able to go ahead.

A large contingent of horses and riders gathered The Longlands Hotel for the colourful event, which, like many hunts, was cancelled for two years running because of snow and ice.

Master and huntsman Clive Richardson said: “Last year the temperature plummeted to minus 15, making it dangerous for both the horses and the hounds.

“This year, however, it’s just so incredibly wet after a month’s consistent rain and we are very grateful to the farmers for allowing us to get out in these conditions. We owe them a debt of gratitude - without farmers’ support the hunt wouldn’t exist.”

Meanwhile, Farming Minister Jim Paice has said the 2005 Hunting Act, which makes it illegal to hunt wild animals using dogs, ‘simply doesn’t work’.

Speaking out before hundreds of hunts got underway around the country, Mr Paice said he supported hunting with dogs and said there would be a vote on whether to repeal the act when there was ‘time in the parliamentary calendar’.

On a visit to hunt kennels at Milton Park, Peterborough, the Conservative minister said: "The current law simply doesn't work. I personally am in favour of hunting with dogs - and the coalition agreement clearly states that we will have a free vote on whether to repeal the act when there is time in the parliamentary calendar to do so."

Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said 250,000 people were expected to come out to support more than 300 local Boxing Day hunts.

She said despite prejudice, hunting across the UK remained as strong as ever.

The next Vale of Lune hunt sets off The Castle Inn, Hornby on Monday, January 2, at 11.30am.