Blood sports enthusiasts gathered in their hundreds today to support the last legal foxhunts in Britain. Drizzle swept across the Wiltshire village of Hullavington as the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt gathered at 10.45am for the final pre-ban chase of its 300-year history. Dressed in a blue blazer and sipping from a goblet of port prior to the start of the hunt, Henry Jodrell, 37, from nearby Easton Grey, was out on horseback. "We have sent out troops to Iraq to fight for democracy but we do not seem to have achieved that here in Britain," he said. The Hunting Act, which outlaws foxhunting, deerhunting and hare coursing with dogs, comes into force tomorrow. Three senior judges headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, rejected a legal challenge to the ban in the court of appeal yesterday. The judges ruled that the 1949 Parliament Act, which MPs used to force through the Hunting Act in the face of opposition from the House of Lords, was a valid piece of legislation. Hunt supporters have vowed to exploit loopholes in the ban and in some cases to continue hunting in defiance of it. As 50 horses and up to 100 people on foot gathered near Ashford for the 11am start of the East Kent Hunt, the red-clad master of foxhounds, Nigel Fisher, told the crowd the 200-year-old hunt's normal activities had merely been suspended "temporarily" until the legislation was repealed. "It's the end of an era and the start of another. We're expecting a huge turnout on Saturday," he said. The hunt then set off across the fields with horns sounding and hounds barking. Hunt saboteurs could be heard shouting in a bid to disorientate the animals and allow any foxes to escape. Nick Onslow, a spokesman for the hunt, said it would be meeting again on Saturday, but had no intention of breaking the law. The rural affairs minister, Alun Michael, said he was heartened that hunts were talking about operating within the law, which allows the hunting of wild mammals as long as it is not done with dogs. "That means doing all that is traditionally associated with hunting from the stirrup cup to red coats to enjoying a day in the fresh air," he said. "[It] should cause problems for no one as long as they don't use their dogs to hunt a wild mammal. "For now on, if people set out to hunt a wild mammal with dogs, whether it be a fox, a mink, a hare or a deer, they will be breaking the law. It will then be up to the police to investigate and to gather evidence for a prosecution.
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2/17/05 at 2:27pm