HUNTING season has officially got underway in Hampshire after hundreds of people descended upon the New Forest for their first meet.

The New Forest Hounds’ opening meet attracted scores of riders and visitors to the village of Fritham when they set off for a day riding across the Hampshire countryside.

Dressed in full hunting jackets and joined by local Commoners the hunting of a man-made trail kept up the members’ spirits that they would continue their traditional activity regardless of any future changes in the law.

As meets take place across the UK the Countryside Alliance has said that next year could see the start of the end of the Hunting Act as fox hunting gathers more support.

Relying on the Conservatives’ promise of a free vote for MPs to repeal the ban enforced five years ago, Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart said: “The Hunting Act is simply a bad law that has failed.

“The ban on hunting was driven by class politics and prejudice, not animal welfare or wildlife management, which is why it is completely unworkable.

“Meanwhile increasing numbers of Labour and Lib Dem MPs accept the Hunting Act has failed. That is why this season could be the last season under the ban.”

New Forest hunt joint master Paul Ames said: “I just take it a day at a time, because we got banned from fox hunting four seasons ago and now we see the promise of the possibility of going back to where we were.

“Meanwhile we are just keeping our hounds ticking over hunting a trail and we are happy – but we would like the real thing because we feel that is what we should be doing.

“But meanwhile we will trail hunt under the law and we will keep doing that.”

There have been three successful prosecutions against hunts since the act came into force, the last of those was in January 2007.

However, the League Against Cruel Sports has condemned what it describes as the “desperate hypocrisy” of hunts.

Chief executive Douglas Batchelor said: “The hunters are telling us on the one hand that hunting is more popular than ever and yet on the other are calling for the Hunting Act to be repealed.

“If hunting is now so popular, why on earth would you bring back the cruelty? Their hypocrisy is desperate.”

Before the bugle sounded to start the hunt, supporters handed over a cheque of £3,300 to the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance charity raised on a previous sponsored hunt.