Boxing Day meets up and down the country showed an increase of 10% in attendances compared to last season, in spite of wet weather in many areas.

Record attendances are a reflection of a general increase in the number of followers, particularly young people, who have been out hunting this season. According to Countryside Alliance (CA) figures, more than 3,000 people started hunting during National Newcomers Week.

To coincide with the Boxing Day meets, the results of a new NOP poll commissioned by the Alliance were released, showing that 98% of Britons consider that there are more important issues for the government to tackle than hunting.

Simon Hart, chief executive of the CA, said: “The massive Boxing Day crowds, coupled with the poll figures suggest that hunting is in good spirits and prepared for whatever challenges may lie ahead.”

Both the Alliance’s figures and the results from its newly commissioned poll have caused outrage among anti-hunting organisations. Protect Our Wild Animals, an anti-bloodsport group, accused the Alliance of wild exaggeration and criticised their recent poll.

Alan Kirby, spokesman for the POWA, said that “the latest scientific poll shows at least 69% want all types of hunting banned”.

The CA has been quick to respond to the accusations, providing details of how information on Boxing Day figures was collected in each of the 12 regions in the country. It has also pointed out that the poll referred to by the POWA is under investigation by the Market Research Society following allegations that it breaches its code of conduct.

The Alliance maintains that none of the most recent polls carried out by NOP, ICM and YouGov which offer the three options the government have consulted on – a ban, licensed hunting, or the status quo – have shown a majority for a ban.

Tim Bonner, spokesperson for the CA, dismissed the POWA’s comments. “There are more people hunting than ever before, not just on the more important days in the hunting calendar, but every week. No criticism from an insignificant extreme animal rights organisation can undermine the continuing support in the hunting community,” he said.