Thousands of supporters packed Lacock on Boxing Day for the Avon Vale Hunt, as the Government ruled out a free vote on repealing the hunting ban.

The village was full as 65 riders departed at 11am, led by new hunt master Stuart Radbourne.

Joint hunt master Mike Smith said: “We had a brilliant day, and it was lovely to see so many people out.

“I have been going for over 50 years, and I would think the turnout for the hunt was the most I have ever seen.

“There were around three-and-a-half thousand people there last year, and they tell me there was more this year.

“The support we are getting is fantastic.”

The hunt was the first to be led by Mr Radbourne, 28, who took over from Wiltshire councillor Jonathon Seed this year.

He said: “It was a bit daunting to go out there in front of so many people but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“I have been involved with the hunt for 12 years. I first went out hunting as a teenager, and worked in a kennels in my gap year. “

Mr Smith said: “I think he is brilliant, I am 72 years old and it’s great to bring in young people like him, they are the future of hunting.”

As legal hunts took place across the country environment secretary Owen Paterson said the coalition government was not likely to repeal the ban on full hunting with hounds, admitting a free vote on the issue was not one that could be won by the pro-hunt lobby.

Mr Radbourne said: “They have promised us a free vote in the house, so we do expect that to happen.

“We accept it’s not a major priority, and they need to focus on the NHS and policing, but we would still like it to happen. We live in hope.”

Following problems with parking last year Wiltshire Council had sent four traffic wardens to Lacock to manage the supporters travelling to the village. During the day seven tickets were given out.