HUNT supporters condemned the Hunting Act as hundreds of thousands of people attended Boxing Day meets across the country.

More than 300,000 people, including increasing numbers of women and children, turned out to 314 UK hunts, with the Countryside Alliance reporting record crowds at many events.

The success of the hunts, on what is traditionally the busiest day in the hunting calendar, led to renewed calls for a repeal of the three-year-old ban on the blood sport.

Some of the biggest crowds of the day were seen at the Avon Vale Hunt, where nearly 6,000 people met at Lacock, near Chippenham, Wiltshire, and at the Heythrop Hunt, in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, where 5,000 people turned out.

Among those taking part in events was huntsman Tony Wright, 53, who won an appeal last month against his conviction for hunting a wild animal with dogs. He was the first huntsman to be convicted of breaching the Hunting Act after the League Against Cruel Sports brought a private prosecution against him.

The 2004 Act made hunting with dogs a criminal offence, although exercising hounds, chasing a scent trail and flushing out foxes to be shot are all still legal.

Speaking as he joined 400 people and 50 riders for the Exmoor Foxhounds hunt, at Kentisbury, in Devon, Mr Wright said: "Our best Christmas present came early this year when the courts threw out my conviction and accepted that we had been hunting legally. We are looking forward now and hopefully it won't be too long before all the confusion and stupidity of the Hunting Act is removed."

Female hunt master, Polly Portwin, joined 2,300 people and 170 riders at the Bicester Hunt, which met at Winslow, in Buckinghamshire.

She said: "It's great to see such a lot of support from the countryside, but also from the towns. I think most people have a live-and-let-live attitude and they don't like pointless and prejudiced laws like the Hunting Act."

Sam Butler, Master of the Warwickshire Hunt, which met at Upton House, near Banbury, added: "We have got a good crowd of over a thousand people here and there is a real feeling of optimism. This Government is never going to admit that the Hunting Act has failed, but everyone knows it has. I am sure that it can't last for much longer."