A THUNDEROUS roar filled the air as more than 100 horses set out for the annual Boxing Day hunt.

Spectators gathered as riders from the Holcombe Hunt, wearing traditional red coats, gathered at Rivington Hall Barn.

As the sound of the hunting horn filled the air, the hounds followed a 12-mile pre-laid scent.

Hunting foxes and hares with dogs was outlawed in 2005 but, under the ban, dogs can still be used to follow a scent.

Master of the hunt Arnold Greenhalgh said the ban had not affected numbers and has, if anything, increased the popularity of the activity.

He said: "We are hunting within the law and hundreds of people and young children attended to support us and to have a nice day out."

Mr Greenhalgh said they had not lost members since the ban was introduced and that membership was rising.

More than 100 horses were out on Boxing Day with many more people following the hunt on foot.

Riders paraded in front of cheering crowds, lifting their riding hats to acknowledge the applause as they galloped past.

The Countryside Alliance said that more than 250,000 people participated in more than 300 events on Boxing Day, traditionally the busiest day of the hunting year.

Jill Grieve, of the Countryside Alliance, said the Hunting Act had raised the profile of the sport and encouraged people to attend meets.

"Numbers have been consistently good since the ban came into force a couple of years ago," she added.

"A lot of people didn't know or care about hunting before, but since the Hunting Act has been in the news, many have thought they will go along and see what the fuss is about." Anti-hunt campaigners, the League Against Cruel Sports, said it did not object to the Boxing Day hunts if they stayed within the law, but it would be monitoring illegal activity.

Spokesman Barry Hugill said: "We will have no qualms about bringing prosecutions against anyone caught breaking the law.

"This year we're fairly certain there will be a lot more convictions."