A THUNDEROUS roar filled their air as hundreds of horses set out for the annual Boxing Day hunt at Holcombe.

Spectators gathered by the sidelines as riders wearing traditional red coats arrived at Rivington Hall Barn.

And as the sound of hunting horns filled the air the event began, with dogs following a 12 mile pre-laid scent.

Hunting foxes and hares with dogs was banned in 2005. But under the ban, dogs can still be used to follow a scent.

Master of the Hunt Arnold Greenhalgh said the ban had not affected numbers and if anything has increased its popularity.

He said: "We are hunting within the law and hundreds of people and young children attended to support us and to have a nice day."

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

More than 100 horses were out yesterday (wed) with many more people following the hunt on foot.

Riders paraded in front of cheering crowds, lifting their riding hats to acknowledge the applause as they galloped by.

The Countryside Alliance said more than a quarter of a million people participated in more than 300 such events yesterday - traditionally the busiest day of the hunting year.

Jill Grieve, a spokeswoman for the Countryside Alliance, said the Hunting Act had raised the profile of the sport and encouraged people to attend meets.

"Numbers have been consistently good since the ban came into force a couple of years ago," she said.

"A lot of people didn't know or care about hunting before, but since the Hunting Act has been in the news, a lot of people have thought they will go along and see what the fuss is about."

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 but they would be monitoring any illegal activity.

Barry Hugill, a spokesman for the group, said: "We will have no qualms about bringing prosecutions against anyone caught breaking the law. This year we're fairly certain there will be a lot more convictions."