THOUSANDS of people turned out on Boxing Day to show their support for a sport once feared a dying tradition.

The annual Berkeley Boxing Day Meet attracted almost 4,000 people on foot and 80 on horseback to its traditional Thornbury venue.

Henry Berkeley, master of the Berkeley Hunt, said: "As for those on foot it's up on the last few Boxing Day meets.

"It was an extremely successful hunt and we had a great time. I hope to pass on my thanks to the people of Thornbury."

The Berkeley Meet was one of more than 300 registered hunts, which set out across the country on Boxing Day two years after the sport of hunting foxes with hounds was banned.

The Hunting Act 2004 banned a person from hunting a wild mammal using a dog. Since the law, hunts across the country have continued to meet but now chase a artificial fox's scent instead of a live animal.

Tim Bonner, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said the change in the law had actually increased support for the sport,as shown this week, not reduced it as some critics had hoped.

He said: "Lots of people have become actively involved in campaigns to protect hunting and they seem to be showing their support in great numbers at events like Berkeley.

"The meetings are also different to what they used to be and are less exclusive and more welcoming to newcomers. Hunting has definitely opened itself up and has grown because of this."

Mr Berkeley said the success of Tuesday's hunt proved the sport definitely had a future.

He said: "I think what it showed is that the hard-core hunting fraternity are not about to give in.

"The people that turned out on Tuesday believe in the tradition and in the freedom of people being able to choose what they want to do."

The League Against Cruel Sports, in reaction to the large turn out at hunts across the country, said it would continue to monitor meets for illegal activity.

In Thornbury the hunt galloped around two laps of the town to the cheers of some people.

The Beaufort Hunt, which met on Boxing Day attracted a record turnout of 2,000 on foot and 150 on horseback.