RIDERS and hounds will be out in force today as the hunting season gets into full flow.
Hunting foxes with hounds was banned in February 2005 despite angry protests that it would destroy a countryside way of life.
Since then two attempts to overturn the ban have failed, although a case is now being taken to the European Court of Human Rights.
While the ban is challenged, hunts continue to operate by using the drag hunting method, using the scent of a fox to lay a trail for the hounds to overcome the outlawing of the traditional chase and kill.
But now a leading animal welfare charity has challenged what it says is the “desperate hypocrisy” of the hunting community.
Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “The hunters are telling us hunting is more popular than ever, and yet are calling for the Hunting Act to be repealed. If hunting is now so popular, why on earth would you bring back the cruelty? Their hypocrisy is desperate.”
Polling by Ipsos-MORI last month showed that support for the hunting ban had increased since last year, with 85% of the public supporting the ban on hare hunting and 75% supporting the ban on fox hunting.
But those findings have been rejected by the Countryside Alliance.
Steve Clark, Alliance regional director for the North, described the ban as “pointless and unworkable.” He said: “The hunting community have been determined to maintain the infrastructure of hunting – the staff, the kennels, the hunts and hounds.
“To do that, hunts have had to adapt to hunting within the new law. Trail hunting, hunting an artificial scent, provides activity for horses and riders, while the many exemptions in the Hunting Act give scope for hunts to carry on fox control for the farmers whose land they hunt across.
“This has meant that hunting is stronger than ever. Hunts have retained their support, and, in many cases, have soared in popularity as people have become more determined to preserve their local hunt.”