THOUSANDS of people packed Chipping Norton’s town square for the launch of the traditional Boxing Day ride of the Heythrop Hunt.

Around 6,000 people turned out to see off the hunt, which traditionally sets out from the Cotswold town every Boxing Day morning.

The popularity of the event has been heralded by hunt organisers as a sign the sport is still supported by many people.

Joint master Nessie Lambert said: “Nothing beats the support we have from the local community.

“It is always lovely to see the town packed again to welcome the hounds on Boxing Day.”] He added: “We are very lucky to have so much help throughout the year from farmers and supporters, but today is the day on which everyone comes out to cheer the hounds and hunt staff.”

The event – which has seen a scent used since the Government banned fox hunting – is regularly criticised by animal campaigners.

But there were no signs of protesters yesterday morning.

The Bicester Hunt with Whaddon Chase Hounds also met, east of Bicester.

The Kimblewick Hunt, previously the Vale of Aylesbury with Garth and South Berks Hunt, which covers parts of Oxfordshire, met at Cholsebury Common in Buckinghamshire.