A CROWD of more than 1,000 spectators gathered to see the Holcombe Hunt off for its traditional Boxing Day meeting.

Horses and ponies of all sizes with riders dressed in traditional red or black jackets gathered at Rivington Hall Barn near Horwich for a day riding with hounds following a 12 mile pre-laid scent.

It is almost two years since the ban on hunting foxes with hounds came into force, but despite predictions that it would spell the death of the country pursuit, Master of the Hunt, Arnold Greenhalgh says it is increasing in popularity.

Around 100 horses were out yesterday with many more people, wrapped up against the cold, following the hunt on foot.

Mr Greenhalgh said they had lost no members since the hunting ban came in and membership was rising.

"It is superb. Everyone loves it," he said.

"The hunt is going from strength to strength and lots of young people are joining us."

Unlike some hunts, which have attracted criticism for having killed foxes, allegedly accidentally when the hounds picked up a scent, Mr Greenhalgh says Holcombe Hunt has not killed a fox in the two years since the ban came into force.

Looking forward to a good day's hunting yesterday, the riders paraded in front of cheering crowds.

They lifted their riding hats to acknowledge the applause as they galloped by.

More than 300,000 people are believed to have taken part in the 314 UK hunts, on what is traditionally the busiest day in the hunting calendar.

The Countryside Alliance said the record turnout proved the two-year-old ban on the blood sport was irrelevant.

Spokeswoman Charlotte Fiander said: "Everyone is still going out to show their support - this ban just isn't working.

"We are seeing people who have never hunted before going out and that is certainly boosting the numbers.

"It just shows that this law needs to be changed."

Anti-hunt campaign group the League Against Cruel Sports said it did not object to the Boxing Day hunts if they stayed within the law.

A spokeswoman said: "The League does not have a problem with hunts meeting to either drag or trail hunt on Boxing Day, as long as they do not violate the Hunting Act."