LONDON (AP) – Tens of thousands of hunters and their hounds raced through the countryside on horseback Saturday, opening a fox-hunting season that could be one of Britain’s last.

The more than 300 hunts had a defiant air, with participants still angry over the government’s plans to ban hunting with hounds.

Fox hunting supporters were undaunted.

“We are just as determined to be here next November and the November after that as we ever have been,” said Darren Hughes, a spokesman for the pro-hunt group Countryside Alliance.

At the prestigious Beaufort Hunt on the Gloucestershire-Wiltshire border in western England, some 200 people on horses and about 400 supporters gathered under rainy skies in a stalwart mood.

“A lot of people are committed to continuing to hunt whatever happens and a lot of people just cannot believe that a government could be so irresponsible as to put this as such a high priority when there’s so much wrong in the country,” said Nigel Maidment, secretary of the hunt.

Supporters of the ban argue that killing foxes with hounds is cruel, and have advocated other methods of population control.

At the Beaufort Hunt, some said traditional hunting methods, in which dogs kill the prey, are still the most humane.

“(The ban) is the most misplaced idea on animal welfare one could imagine,” said Christopher Mulholland, the vicar of Badminton, from his horse.

Hunting supporters also pointed to the possible economic consequences of a ban. One estimate said a ban could put as many as 8,000 people out of work – not only employees of some 200 hunts around the country but also saddlers, blacksmiths, grooms and stablehands.

“Hunting is too important to lose for the local community,” said Ian Farquhar, a captain of the Beaufort Hunt.

Lawmakers’ efforts to ban fox hunting have brought fierce resistance from pro-hunt activists since the House of Commons passed the bill in September.

In October, five pro-hunt supporters ran into the House of Commons chamber and disrupted debate. Individual Labour Party ministers and lawmakers have recently been the target of protesters, including Leader of the Commons Peter Hain, who was pelted with eggs during a speech in Oxford.

Pro-hunting activists have also promised open defiance of any ban on hunting.

“An awful lot of people have said they will defy any hunting ban,” Hughes said. “People are more determined now than ever.”



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