HUNT supporters and members of the public have been out in numbers across the Cotswolds and south Warwickshire over Christmas.

Sam Butler, master of the Warwickshire Hunt, said a crowd of about 1,000 people turned out for the traditional Boxing Day meet at Upton House near Banbury.

Mr Butler claimed that hunting has been given "a new lease of life" since the imposition of a ban on fox hunting two years ago.

"The crowd at Upton House were as good as ever and their morale and support is probably better than it was before the ban," said Mr Butler, who is former chairman of the Countryside Alliance's Campaign for Hunting.

. "No-one is talking about the last Boxing Day hunt anymore. Everybody is talking about the determination to see a repeal of the ban," said Mr Butler.

He said that there was also increased numbers participating in hunts, with the 175 riders attending the Christmas Eve meet at Admington near Shipston.

"I can't remember numbers like that for the last 30 years if not longer. There is a new generation of people coming hunting, including a lot of children and teenagers. There is a new lease of life in hunting, " he said.

The Heythtrop Hunt gathered for its traditional festive meets outside the Fox Inn in Chipping Norton on Boxing Day.

Penny Little, spokeswoman for Protect Our Wild Animals (POWA) rejected hunt claims that public support for fox hunting had grown since the ban was introduced.

"If the Countryside Alliance said 10million people turned up I wouldn't be the slightest bit interested. I'm interested in the welfare of this country's animals and that they should be protected as they should be," said Ms Little.

She claimed that hunts were "corrupting" a loophole in the law originally designed for falconers to flush out rabbits, allowing hunts to flush a fox to a bird of prey.

."They have twisted this piece of legislation to their own ends and it is in urgent need of being tightened.

"I would like to challenge any hunts to produce a piece of film of their bird of prey catching a fox," she said.