Latest figures 'show exactly how diverse hunting is', says Countryside Alliance

More than 250 hunts are set to meet for their annual Boxing Day event as debate over hunting rumbles on.

The Countryside Alliance said hunting was younger and more diverse than it had ever been, with a survey of registered hunts showing more women and young people taking part in legal hunts such as "trail" hunting than 10 years ago.

Baroness Ann Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance, said the hunting ban "has little to do with animals or their welfare", adding the anti-hunting lobby is about a "hatred of people".

But polling for the League Against Cruel Sports showed continued widespread opposition to repealing the Hunting Act, which came into force in 2005 and outlawed the hunting of animals including foxes and deer with dogs.

Hunting returned to the headlines during the snap general election, when Prime Minister Theresa May promised a free vote on repealing the ban to the consternation of campaigners, but failed to win a parliamentary majority.

And members of the National Trust narrowly voted against a bid to prevent trail hunting on the organisation's land, proposed amid concerns the practice was allowing illegal hunting of foxes and other animals.

On Sunday it was reported that Mrs May will abandon her Conservative general election manifesto pledge to give MPs a free vote on whether to overturn the fox hunting ban.

According to the Sunday Times, the Prime Minister will announce plans in early 2018 to permanently drop the commitment to a House of Commons vote, in a move which would risk infuriating rural Tories.

A Downing Street source described the report as "pure speculation", but reiterated the Government's position: "There is no vote that could change the current policy on fox hunting scheduled in this session of Parliament", which ends in 2019.