Campaigners and hunters prepare to renew hostilities

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The Independent Online

The countryside is braced for confrontation this weekend after an appeal to save hunting with dogs was rejected by Britain's most senior judges. Anti-blood sports campaigners were jubilant as, after eight years of political and legal wrangling, fox, hare and deer hunting using hounds was due to become illegal from midnight tonight.

The countryside is braced for confrontation this weekend after an appeal to save hunting with dogs was rejected by Britain's most senior judges. Anti-blood sports campaigners were jubilant as, after eight years of political and legal wrangling, fox, hare and deer hunting using hounds was due to become illegal from midnight tonight.

But with doubts over how the law will be implemented, the Government's most senior legal adviser was warned by the Lord Chief Justice yesterday not to "hide behind the courts" and to take responsibility for enforcing the Hunting Act.

Lord Woolf criticised the Attorney General's failure to oppose an application by the Countryside Alliance for an injunction "staying" prosecutions against anyone who breaks the law.

The panel of judges, which included the Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, and Lord Justice May, refused the injunction application and threw out the Alliance's appeal. The pro-hunt group claimed the Government acted unlawfully by using the Parliament Act to drive through the ban after opposition from the House of Lords.

The Attorney General's office said Lord Goldsmith will meet police and prosecutors to decide how to enforce the new law despite evidence that the Association of Chief Police Officers believes the ban should have "low priority" when it comes to deploying officers - a position backed by the Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

A spokeswoman for Lord Goldsmith said: "The Attorney General does not propose to introduce a blanket policy of non-enforcement of the law."

Hunt supporters said they would continue to kill foxes despite the ban, which they claim is unworkable. Up to 50,000 are expected to take part in protests on Saturday as hunts turn out in unprecedented numbers for a show of solidarity.

Tim Bonner, spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said: "To everyone looking at what is happening on the 19th it will look, sound and smell just like hunting did before. There will be people on horses and hundreds of farmers and hounds - foxes will be killed."

Anti-blood sports campaigners are mobilising supporters to video the hunts and to pass on evidence of wrongdoing to the Crown Prosecution Service. Other groups said they would make citizen's arrests. The League Against Cruel Sports said many of the hunts had failed to retrain their hounds to chase dragged scents and still posed a threat to foxes and other animals.

There has been concern in the anti-hunt movement that the Government is fighting shy of the ban, fearing angry scenes before the general election. The Government will be saved from too many damaging clashes as the hunting season ends in early March. The Court of Appeal dismissed the Alliance's attempt to reverse the ban, and refused it permission to take the case to the House of Lords. The Alliancewill now petition the law lords to consider its case. It is also seeking to challenge the ban under the Human Rights Act.

John Rolls, RSPCA director of animal welfare promotion, said: "Having presented its arguments to Parliament and the courts, the Alliance must accept the outcome of the democratic process - that hunting is cruel and unnecessary and that the Hunting Act is a perfectly valid piece of legislation."

WHERE THERE IS NO PROTECTION

SNARING

Snaring is banned in most European countries. In Britain, only self-locking snares are illegal and only badgers have limited protection.

SHOOTING PHEASANTS

Animal Aid estimates 36 million pheasants are shot each year, with 5 million dying in predatory control programmes.

BROILER CHICKENS

Broiler chickens have been selectively bred to reach slaughter-weight in half the time nature intended - with severe implications for their hearts, lungs and legs, campaigners say.

BIRDS/TORTOISES

The EU bans the import of protected tortoises, but many are still bought from markets. Nine in 10 die after four years in captivity. Campaigners forced the end of Britain's largest exotic bird market, the National Cage & Aviary Birds Exhibition. They say the "brutal" industry is driving many species to the brink of extinction.

DOLPHINS

About 10,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises suffocate in fishing nets around the UK each year, according to the WWF. They become entangled while feeding, leading to species becoming endangered.