TRADITIONAL Boxing Day hunts across Oxfordshire are once again expected to draw thousands of spectators.

Organisers say dozens of riders and hounds will meet across the county for the biggest annual event in their calendar.

This is despite a ban on fox hunting being introduced seven years ago, meaning Oxfordshire’s hunts will have to stay within the law by following artificially-laid trails.

Pressure group the Countryside Alliance said it expects to see around 250 hunts drawing around 250,000 spectators across the UK on Boxing Day, and has called on the Government to repeal the ban.

Bicester and Whaddon Chase Hound Club will meet at 11am in the field opposite Winslow Hall, east of Bicester.

Patrick Martin, huntsman for the hound club which has its kennels in Stratton Audley, near Bicester, said around 70 riders and more than 1,000 spectators turned out last year, and he is hoping to see increased numbers this year.

He said: “The good thing about Boxing Day is people turn up who we don’t see during the rest of the year, because they see it as a tradition of the British countryside.

“The general support of the public is what makes this hunt special. They can almost make it a form of protest by turning up and saying ‘we don’t want to see this tradition lost’.”

Hunts met in Bicester’s Market Square on Boxing Day until 2001, when it was moved to avoid a £1,000 bill from Thames Valley Police and Cherwell District Council to put up safety barriers.

Honorary secretary for the Heythrop Hunt Greg Avis said members will once again meet in Chipping Norton’s Market Place, outside the Fox Hotel, at 10.45am on Boxing Day.

He said: “We’re hoping for a good turnout. It seems to have gone up since the ban.”