Published: 00:01, 26 December 2018
Protestors are claiming a “massive victory” after forcing organisers of a Boxing Day hunt to abandon a 100-year-old tradition of gathering in a village square.
Every year, the East Kent with West Street Hunt is besieged by placard-waving, anti-hunt demonstrators when it gathers in Elham, near Ashford, which has led to heated exchanges.
Now, the joint hunt masters have decided they want a “more peaceful, calm and polite environment” for participants and visitors.
Instead, supporters will be invited up to the hunt kennels at the top of Cullens Hill at 10.30am, where security will be in place to ensure protestors cannot access the premises.
But afterwards, the horses and hounds will parade down the High Street at about 11am before setting off on a trail across the countryside.
Hunt spokesman Nick Onslow says the break in tradition has been decided by the masters because the atmosphere in the square has become hostile.
He said: “We absolutely respect the right of people to protest peacefully but a small minority sometimes go too far and use abusive language which is not very nice in front of children.
“The masters have broken with tradition to ensure that we host a family friendly occasion in a more peaceful, calm and polite environment.
“But that is not to say we won’t return to the square in the future.
“We still have a lot of support and people still enjoy the spectacle even if they are not specifically hunting supporters.”
But Grant Tillman of the East Kent Hunt Saboteurs - a group which monitors hunting activities in the countryside - claims it is a “massive victory” for the anti-hunting movement.
“They have also abandoned the New Year’s Day gathering in Wingham High Street and we have effectively driven them underground like a hunted fox,” he said.
“As for the abusive language, we get enough of that directed at us from hunt supporters.”
But Mr Tilllman said: “If that’s the case, why do they get so upset when we film them and cover their faces?”
Up to 40 riders take part in the ride, which Mr Onslow of the Countryside Alliance insists still has widespread support.
Despite accusations from saboteurs, he maintains it operates within the law and has never been convicted under the legislation.
“What surprises me is that we are still facing this protest despite the fact that since the Hunting Act came into force in 2005, we do not hunt foxes any more,” he said.
But on its website, East Kent with West Street Hunt says it remains “committed” to having the act repealed and believes that hunting foxes with hounds is the most humane way of controlling the population.
Anti-hunt campaigners still plan to protest in Elham, and are likely to move their demonstration from the square to the kennels.
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