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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 November 2006, 10:34 GMT
Hunters mark beginning of season
Hounds
The law makes it illegal to hunt with dogs in England and Wales
The fox hunting season has got under way with thousands of enthusiasts setting out on foot and horseback following packs of hounds.

Police and hunt monitors were out checking people stayed within the law.

Hunting foxes with dogs in England and Wales was banned in 2005 but hounds can be used to follow an artificial scent.

Supporters said they would test the "ridiculous law" to its limits while anti-hunt protesters warned more hunters could be prosecuted.

Under the new guidelines, dogs can also be used to flush out a fox, which can then be killed by a bird of prey or shot - as long as only two dogs are involved in the process.

Loopholes exploited

Tim Easby, master and huntsman of the Middleton Hunt in North Yorkshire, told the BBC they had never had so much support and it had been "absolutely fantastic".

Mr Easby said he was confident the "ridiculous" ban on hunting with hounds would be overturned because of the popularity of the sport.

"We will be going on hound exercise and laying trails and, to all intent and purposes, the mounted field behind me will be having as much fun doing that as they've always had," he said.

BBC rural affairs correspondent Tom Heap said some claimed the appeal of hunting had increased.

"All hunts are exploiting loopholes in the law and how far they can push it depends on the local level of scrutiny," he said.

We're testing it to the limits because we see it as a ridiculous law that should never have been brought in
Phillippa Mayo
Countryside Alliance

"Some undoubtedly chase and kill foxes with a pack of hounds in clear breach of the law.

"Others may lay scent trails by hand and only pursue live prey by accident."

Phillippa Mayo, from the Countryside Alliance, told BBC Radio Five Live hunts were trying to operate within the law.

"They're certainly not going out to deliberately flout it, but obviously we're testing it to the limits because we see it as a ridiculous law that should never have been brought in and which needs repealing as soon as possible," she said.

Mike Hobday, of the League Against Cruel Sports, warned more hunt supporters could be prosecuted if they did not follow the law.

"If hunters do not convert to drag hunting, following an artificial scent, we foresee more ending up in court," he said.

"The Hunting Act is very clear - the cruelty of chasing wild animals with hounds is illegal," he said.

National Trust ban

On Saturday, the National Trust's annual meeting was due to discuss a resolution calling for it to reaffirm the total ban on hunters on its land.

Douglas Batchelor, the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) and a member of the National Trust, was due to propose the resolution with fellow-member Cerys Roberts.

The trust banned all deer hunting on its land in 1997.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The law on foxhunting is just a bureaucratic farce
Roy, Eastbourne

However, the trustees resolved that where hunts chasing "clearly sick and injured deer" cross on to its land, the hunters and their hounds should be allowed to follow and kill the deer in order to be humane.

"This is a concept as ludicrous as asking a known paedophile to supervise a children's playground," said Mr Batchelor.

He added: "These are people whose hobby is pursuing, on horseback, terrified animals, chasing them to exhaustion and then butchering them.

"They don't know the meaning of the word 'humane'."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Hunting dogs chase the scent of a fox



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