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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Teaching hunting dogs new tricks
Huntsman and hounds
Traditional scenes like these remain
Hunts in England are employing a variety of methods to avoid any of the much predicted devastation after the hunting ban.

They range from those believed to be carrying on hunting live foxes, to several hunts which have admitted to buying eagle owls to get around the law.

The BBC News website spoke to hunting groups and police forces in each of England's counties about how they have reacted to the law since its introduction in February.

Of the 27 individual hunts surveyed, 13 have refused to get rid of any staff, hounds or horses.

Fourteen reported having reduced their staff numbers with a total of 21 positions lost. One said it had had to cull 11 hounds and only one private pack of hounds is reported to have been destroyed entirely.

Breeding had been decreased in many cases and five hunts reported selling up to 8 horses, while seven hunts had sold as many as 13 hounds.

Job losses by hunt
Warwickshire 3.5
Worcester 2
South Nottinghamshire 2
Southwold 2
Oxfordshire 2
Blankney 1.5
Isle of Wight 1
Hursley Hambledon 1
West Sussex 1
North Staffordshire 1
Crawley and Horsham 1
Quorn posts not filled after retirement
Burton not taking on groom
Vine and Craven contract not renewed

David Walsh, secretary of the South Dorset Hunt, said: "Our hunt made the decision that we are going to carry on in terms of staff levels and hound levels as we have in the past because it is such a bad law that it has to be overturned.

"We are not going to be dictated to by politicians that know nothing about the hunting issue. We are not going to bow to that pressure. The best way for us to do that is to keep our infrastructure."

Temptation to break law

Cheshire Forest Hunt chairman, Jeremy Weston said: "Hunting has not been banned as such, its just been messed around with. We hope to keep the organisation going until the idiocy of the law is realised."

In the North East, the Countryside Alliance's regional director Richard Dodd admitted there may be some hunts who might take advantage of the time of year to disregard the law.

"They are doing artificial hunting at five or six o'clock so they are finished by the time people are out and about," he said.

Asked if they will carry on regardless he said: "You have that. You also have those who say 'hunt within the law' and those who say 'the law is an ass'."

His colleague representing the North West, Tom Fell, agreed some people will be tempted to break the law.

"Of those I've spoken to noone wants to be the first martyr, the first one to go to jail," he said.

We are looking at the law as temporary and we are fighting for a change
Patricia Cornes, South Shropshire Hunt

"There will be brave attempts to provide some sort of day out for their supporters with people thinking 'right is on our side, we are not bad'."

In Chipping Norton, the Heythrop Hunt said it had bought a European eagle owl as using dogs to flush out wild mammals for a bird of prey is an exemption within the act.

The Surrey Union Hunt will flush out foxes with two hounds to ensure farmers grant the rest of the hunt access to land for hunting an artificial trail on a separate day. Others are doing both on the same day in different fields.

"There were doom merchants but we've just had to divorce fox control from the riding," said senior master Mark Sprake.

Other hunts reported a more cautious approach to the ban. Bob Brierley, spokesman for the Worcester Hunt, said they had cut back as far as they could with their staff.

A police officer stands with his baton in front of protesters

He said: "We are down two staff and are only going out two days a week instead of three. Any less staff than that and we couldn't operate."

Many are still banking on the two legal challenges to the ban to change their fortunes.

South Shropshire Hunt secretary Patricia Cornes said: "We are looking at the law as temporary and we are fighting for a change."

Naivety about offence

In Devon, Guy Morlock of the Spooners and West Dartmoor Hunt said he is put off breaking the law by the huge fines. He will be drag hunting, where hounds follow a pre-laid scent, but fears there will still be accidents once their skills at laying the drag improve.

"If we get the hounds to hunt a scent so well you can't tell the difference from them hunting the real thing how will you know what it is hunting?," he said.

"Noone in the world can prove what we're hunting, so they can't prove intention. The only thing to do is try and stop them.

An injured protester
If there are a high level of protests and illegal activities there is a distinct possibility that the policing of our communities will be adversely affected
Nottinghamshire Police

"There is a lot of confusion at the start of the system, a lot of people will be claiming things they can't prove."

So far no police force has had to break up a hunt or passed a case to the CPS for prosecution.

Nigel Yeo of the Association of Chief Police Officers said it is up to officers to decide whether to investigate allegations and to follow up any warnings with further action - he admitted there was some naivety about the offence.

Most of the forces questioned said they rely on receiving intelligence. Humberside Police said: "Our priorities remain burglary, car crime, violent crime and those which directly affect the quality of life of our communities."

Devon and Cornwall's officers have investigated 25 cases, two of which are still ongoing. Northumbria and Wiltshire have both investigated individuals for breaching the act by hunting smaller mammals, four men were convicted of hare coursing in Wiltshire.

Concerns have been voiced about the possible impact on police resources.

Nottinghamshire Police said: "If there are a high level of protests and illegal activities in connection with this issue, there is a distinct possibility that the policing of our communities will be adversely affected."

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