Hunts use loopholes to carry on killing

As new season gets fully under way, there has been not a single prosecution - but a lot of dead foxes
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Business as usual is how hunts are describing next weekend's start of their first full season since fox-hunting was banned.

Why? Because nine months after the anti-fox-hunting legislation, the hounds forecast to die are still wagging their tails, meets are still taking place and there has not been a single prosecution for illegal hunting - despite 50 police investigations.

The hunts are learning ways around the law. Hunting with birds of prey is the most popular innovation. The other is the "accident", when, for example, hounds attack foxes during a perfectly legal rabbit or drag chase, despite the hunt's best efforts to call them off.

Around 40 hunts will start the new season armed with a newly purchased feathered predator - everything from eagle owl to mighty golden eagle, costing up to £10,000 each.

The hunts argue that an exemption in the legislation allows them to use two hounds to flush a fox out into the open, as long a bird of prey makes the actual kill.

The Countryside Alliance said it was legitimate for hunts to use the exemption, but Jim Chick, chairman of the Hawk Board, which represents falconers, warned that hunts are risking injury to birds, hounds, horses and even human beings.

"We marched with the hunts against the fox-hunting ban but this is an abject betrayal of everything we have done for them," said Mr Chick, who wants the loophole closed.

The "accident", like the bird loophole, has yet to be tested in court. Who is to blame if the hounds make a kill before the hunt's bird of prey gets there? And who is to blame if hounds in legal pursuit of a rag soaked in fox scent make a kill after picking up the trail of a real one?

But Wanda Wyporska, of the League Against Cruel Sports, dismissed a BBC poll in which more than 100 hunts reported meet attendance either unchanged or up on pre-ban levels.

"Hunt masters would say that, wouldn't they?" she said, adding that the league's own monitors had reported that meets were less frequent and attendance was down.