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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 November 2005, 14:53 GMT
Has the thrill of the chase gone?
Huntsman with hounds
A huntsman with hounds
It's a tough balancing act for hunt organisers - how to stay within the law while making hunts look and feel as much like those of previous years as possible.

But this is not easy under new laws, which in February banned hunting with dogs.

Privately, hunt organisers fear interest in the sport will wane as people will not want to spend a lot of money on a dull day out, says the BBC rural affairs correspondent Tom Heap.

There are ways to hunt legally, and numerous loop-holes allow organisers to get around the law and continue to hunt with dogs. But anti-hunt campaigners say that many are killing animals intentionally.

Bird of prey

One of the most controversial ruses is to adopt the rules of falconry, a sport in which dogs flush to a bird of prey. The Countryside Alliance has said that about 50 packs have bought a bird or made a deal with a falconer to come out when they are in the field.

William Deakin, of the Warwickshire Hunt, uses an eagle owl.

COST OF HUNTING
To join a drag hunt for a day costs 40, excluding horse hire
Children with own pony can join for as little as 5 a day
Annual subsciption costs about 360 plus 5 per hunt to help with cost of building fences
Fox hunting annual subscription is about 1,000
Horse Magazine figures

"As far as I understand... it's legal for the bird to catch a fox, but not the hounds. The hounds have a couple of accidents and have caught foxes. That's going to happen and there's not much we can do about that. But we are trying to flush towards the bird."

It is allowed to use two dogs to flush prey to a gun, and dogs can be used to find shot and wounded quarry. And it is legal to hunt a rat but not a fox, and a rabbit but not a hare.

Then there is drag hunting, in which the dogs are set off on the trail of a scent laid about 20 minutes in advance by a runner or rider dragging a lure. It is this version that animal welfare campaigners are most keen to see adopted.

The Flint and Denbigh Hunt in north Wales was among those drag-hunting on Saturday. About 80 people rode out - up from the usual 40 to 50 riders - with a crowd of supporters following on foot.

"To the layman, it looked to all intents and purposes the same as it did 12 months ago," said Barry Henderson, regional director of the Countryside Alliance.

"The scent was laid very unobtrusively by a rider, and the mounted field enjoyed themselves as they would have done.

"But not a single fox has been saved; foxes will still be killed as they are pests that need to be controlled."

To kill a fox

Around the country there are many reports of accidents where the hounds have gone on to kill a fox.

Huntsman
Will legal hunts keep interest?

Is this illegal if the intention had been to let a bird make the kill, or to shoot the fox instead? How about if hounds on a legal scent have been distracted and gone after a fox instead? These scenarios have yet to be tested in court.

The League Against Cruel Sports on Friday started a private prosecution against Tony Wright, of the Exmoor Foxhounds. The BBC's Tom Heap said this indicated that the evidence against the Devon huntsman wasn't strong enough for the Crown Prosecution Service.

The League's monitors, and other anti-hunt campaigners, have been out in force too, and have said they will pass any evidence of wrongdoing to the authorities.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the League Against Cruel Sports and the Association of Chief Police Officers have jointly produced a police training video to help officers spot if the law has been broken.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the birds of prey some hunts use to get around the ban



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