LONDON — Thousands of scarlet-clad riders fanned out across the British countryside Wednesday in traditional post-Christmas fox hunts, while protesters gathered to demand the government ban the sport.
Some 30 hunts were scheduled the day after Christmas, traditionally the busiest date in the fox-hunting calendar. More than 150 riders and 2,000 foot followers were expected at Prince Charles’s favorite hunt, the Beaufort Hunt in Badminton, western England.
Fox hunting was suspended in February because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic, but several hunts were granted licenses to resume on Dec. 17.
Anti-hunting groups said they would protest across the country. Past protests have been marked by sabotage and egg-throwing tactics.
Several hunts decided not to gather in their traditional town-center meeting places Wednesday.
"The hunters are running scared," said Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports.
Hunters at Maldon in eastern England said they had decided to meet on private land rather than in town, but said the change was motivated by precautions against foot-and-mouth disease rather than by protesters.
"Meeting in somewhere like a gated field will make it much simpler to ensure than everyone is properly disinfected — that’s the reason for the change," said a spokeswoman for the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance.
Hunting is a highly emotive issue for Britain, an animal-loving country that also cherishes its traditions. While some people delight in the sight and sound of horsemen galloping after a pack of hounds, many are revolted by the idea of wild animals being torn apart by dogs.
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