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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 November 2005, 19:22 GMT
'Successful start' to hunt season
Hounds on a hunt
Around 200 hunts met for the opening day, organisers said
Supporters and opponents of fox hunting have both claimed success after the first day of the new season - the first since a ban in England and Wales.

The Countryside Alliance said hunts had taken place within the law across the country, with thousands taking part.

Anti-hunt campaigners saw "relatively few" breaches, but said evidence would be given to the police in some cases.

Earlier, a report found 40% of hunts had broken the law since it took effect, but supporters dismissed that.

Hunting foxes with dogs was made illegal under the Hunting Act in February, but hounds can be used to follow a scent and to flush out a fox.

Alice the hawk
Birds of prey are allowed to be used to kill foxes lawfully
The fox can then be killed by a bird of prey or shot - if only two dogs are involved.

The Countryside Alliance said around 200 hunts had taken place. Anti-hunt campaigners were also out in force to monitor the meets.

League Against Cruel Sports spokesman Mike Hobday said: "We are very pleased that there seems to have been relatively little law-breaking today.

"There are a number of cases where we will be presenting videotape evidence to the police."

He said there had been reports of hounds chasing foxes until hunt members realised they were being filmed.

But Countryside Alliance Jill Grieve said: "We are confident that hunts have been hunting within the law today. It looks like all the hunts have been out and that they have managed to employ different methods successfully."

A fox
It is an offence to hunt a wild mammal with a dog
Some forms of hunting are exempt including:
Using no more than two dogs to flush out a mammal to be shot
Flushing a mammal from cover in connection with falconry
It is a defence to believe that the hunting was exempt

She said some foxes had died - either by being shot or accidentally - but she was not aware how many.

Numerous loop-holes in the law exist - hounds can still chase a trail, and there is no ban on killing rats or rabbits.

At the Cheshire Forest Hunt an eight-month-old Harris hawk, named Alice, joined 36 riders and 31 hounds on a meet.

"The hounds are not hunting, but they are flushing for the hawk to hunt. It is one of the ways we are testing the legislation," Hunt Joint Master Peter Heaton said.

Joint Master Richard de Prez said: "Following a trail today was not the same thing for traditionalists like me but the younger brigade may take to it more."

A Devon huntsman became only the second to face court in England accused of breaking the ban, after the League Against Cruel Sports launched a private prosecution.

Tony Wright, of the Exmoor Foxhounds, faces a charge of "hounding foxes with dogs". He is expected to appear before a magistrate later this month.

The first successful prosecution under the Hunting Act was that of 19-year-old Adam Pengilley, from Liverpool, who was convicted of hunting rabbits and fined last month.

'Law broken'

The League report released on Saturday said there were 157 allegations of illegal hunting against 79 hunts since the ban was introduced in February.

Information was gathered from hunt monitors, press articles and tip-offs.

The findings are based on evidence relating to 132 of the 317 official hunts in England and Wales.

My support lies with those trying to continue doing something they've done for hundreds of years
Jim, Exeter, Devon

League chief executive Douglas Batchelor said its evidence and intelligence had been passed to the police and the government.

"The report shows that many hunts appear to have gone far beyond what the law now allows in their desire to keep on hunting," he said.

An Alliance spokeswoman said: "If their claims were true, they would not talk about hunts 'appearing to be' breaking the law."

It has released the findings of a survey of 1,005 people, conducted in late October across Britain, showed 45% of those interviewed supported the ban.

The Alliance said a July 1999 survey found 63% of those questioned supported a ban.

See the first of the seasons hunts get under way

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