ANIMAL rights activists were set to stage a protest against a New Year’s Day trail hunt in Maldon yesterday.

Hundreds of supporters were expected to turn out to watch the traditional spectacle, staged by the Essex with Farmers and Union Hunt, which starts outside the Blue Boar on Silver Street.

Animal rights campaigners had staged protests in the run-up to the event.

A spokesman for the Wildlife Guardians group said: “We were out in force, explaining why we wish to ban the hunt meets on Boxing and New Year’s Day at various towns and villages.

“We aren’t here just for the sake of it. We will be here to stand up for one of the most beautiful creatures that grace the British countryside, because this sentient being hasn’t a voice.”

One protester, who did not want to be named, said: “Hunting needs to be banned once and for all.

“It is out of date and has become more dangerous than ever to the public and other animals.”

But the Essex with Farmers and Union Hunt defended the tradition.

A spokesman said: “Throughout the day we will exercise the hounds and take part in trail-hunting which is a legal activity that is no different to any other legal activity such as dog walking or mountain biking.

“There have been hundreds of days hunting taking place in Essex since the law regarding fox hunting was changed in February 2005. During this time there have been no convictions of people associated with our hunt, nor other registered packs of hounds in Essex, which proves that hunts are complying with the law.