But now, more than a year into a Labour government, Britain's huntsmen are preparing for a new cubbing season, the expected breakthroughs have not materialised and some in the animal rights movement are turning on each other.
Although the Government seems certain to keep its promise to ban fur- farming and is legislating against cosmetics tests on animals and driftnets that kill dolphins, its failure to act against hunting rankles like no other. But just as the movement is gearing up for a showdown with the Government, members of two of the main animal rights groups - the League Against Cruel Sports and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) - have begun squabbling, and the RSPCA, which held its annual meeting yesterday, has seen rows over pro-hunters joining the organisation.
The league has for 60 years been Britain's main anti-bloodsports body. Others such as the RSPCA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have the money and political clout, but it is the league that has the knowledge. Similarly, throughout its 100-year history, the BUAV has led the fight against animal experiments. Now both bodies seem on the verge of disarray.
Last autumn, internal quarrels saw the departure from the league of John Bryant, its chief officer, who has more than 30 years' campaigning experience. In the past few weeks, two other key campaigners have resigned after opposing the selling-off of the league's deer sanctuaries in the West Country.
These sanctuaries were once central to the campaign against hunting because they were strategically placed to slice in half key hunting territories. Now they are being sold to pay debts to a PR consultancy hired to help the recent high-profile campaign to abolish hunting.
The BUAV is also engaged in a long-drawn-out night of the long knives: in the past few months a number of its key staff and campaigners have either been forced out or have left.
The governing committee is also at odds. Meetings have been cancelled or rearranged at short notice, allegedly to exclude dissenting members.
Central to the quarrel is a transfer of tens of thousands of pounds from the BUAV to a coalition of European animal rights groups.
However, Mike Baker, the chief executive, denies there are any significant problems. He said: "Every organisation goes through turbulent patches but I don't think we have any particular problems. There are no major disagreements about the way we should move forward or over the direction of policy."
COMMENTATORS attribute the in-fighting in the movement to a combination of passion, puritanism and burn-out. They argue that organisations only fall out when they are close to achieving their aims: only then do they have something to argue about.
Although many people in the movement are despondent, many more see the shake-out as part of a wave of "creative destruction". It is a natural cycle, they say, that all organisations go through. Certainly it is not all despondency. Supporters point to the movement's recent successes, particularly in bringing fox-hunting to the top of the political agenda. But they acknowledge, too, the success of hunt supporters in using the Countryside March to make a remarkably successful protest.
The animal rights groups point out that, in doing so, the hunters turned the old order on its head, making themselves rather than their opponents the protest group. But the animal groups believe that the tide is moving their way. "We have the most sympathetic government ever elected," says Professor Andrew Linzey, an animal rights ethicist from Oxford University: "It's slow and plodding but it is making significant progress. They have banned cosmetics tests on animals and the use of orang-utans, gorillas and chimpanzees in experiments. These are big steps forward."
Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, one of the country's largest animal rights groups, also claims success: "Five thousand people a week are giving up eating meat and a recent poll shows that half of young people believe that animal medical experiments are unscientific. We're part of the long history of social-progress movements so it's not surprising that we face strong opposition and people fall out from time to time."
To try to lift the despondency, Animal Aid has just launched a new "Animal Pride" campaign, which has been modelled on Gay Pride. It is aimed at highlighting the kinship between humans and animals by claiming that man and beast share qualities and feelings.
The group hopes to make people feel proud about caring for and protecting animals. "We're taking ourselves out of the box marked 'weirdo'," Mr Tyler said. "Animal Pride is about taking pride in being part of a historic movement to advance the status of animals and taking pride in our kinship with animals."
He points out that the movement has a long history; many early feminists, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, were animal welfare campaigners. And in the last century, RSPCA campaigners established the NSPCC.
Even pitched battles over the rights of animals are nothing new. In the early part of this century, hundreds of medical students clashed with welfare campaigners over the right to practise vivisection.
THE Animal Pride campaign seeks to rediscover this history and take the philosophy behind it to a far wider audience. Mr Tyler said: "It's about being inclusive rather than puritanical. We're saying that you can be part of the movement by simply being kinder to animals.
"We will continue to assert our radical message by telling people that, if they move some way towards being kinder to animals, then they can be part of the solution."
It has drawn remarkably diverse support, with Lord Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail, standing alongside the sports minister Tony Banks, Chris Eubank and Spike Milligan.
Anti-fur groups - who have seen a fightback by the fur trade - are also preparing a new global campaign, to be launched this autumn, designed to make the wearing of fur socially unacceptable. They believe Labour will by then have fulfilled its pre-election pledge to ban fur-farming.
Despite the troubles at the League Against Cruel Sports, the other main anti-bloodsports groups plan to step up their campaign. The RSPCA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in partnership with the embattled league, plan to push the Government to fulfil its pledge to ban hunting.
A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said: "Seventy-three per cent of the population opposes hunting and 411 MPs voted to ban it so we must see some action from the Government. We want them to ban it in the next session of Parliament."
Aims and objectives: To promote the idea that all animals have inalienable rights. It campaigns against all animal suffering.
Methods: Public education, political lobbying and Outrage magazine.
Respect For Animals (was Lynx)
Aims and objectives: To see the destruction of the fur trade globally.
Methods: Hard-hitting adverts and commissions undercover investigations on issues related to fur farming and fur trapping.
British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection
Aims and objectives: To outlaw all animal testing and experiments.
Methods: Mostly through public education. Tries to persuade big busioness to abandon animal testing. Engages in some political lobbying.
Hunt Saboteurs Association
Aims and objectives: To abolish all bloodsports.
Methods: Direct action including such tactics as laying false trails and calling off hounds using hunting horns. Also sabotages big shooting events and occasionally disrupts fishing contests. Publishes Howl magazine
League Against Cruel Sports
Aims and objectives: To abolish all bloodsports.
Methods: Campaigns mostly through Parliament but also seeks to persuade local authorities, landowners, companies and individuals to prohibit hunting on their land. Publishes Wildlife Guardian.
International Fund For Animal Welfare
Aims and objectives: To ensure kind treatment of all animals.
Methods: Extensive mail-shots and advertising. Helped to organise and fund the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted Animal with the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports.. Donated pounds 1m to Labour before the last election.
Aims and objectives: To promote kindness, and to prevent cruelty, to animals.
Methods: Operates an inspectorate throughout England and Wales and maintains animal homes and clinics. Lobbies throughout Europe for legal reform for the protection of animals. Special Operations Unit does such undercover work as monitoring the transport of live animals. Publishes Animal Life and Animal World.Reuse content