Scores of foxes die on a day which leaves questions over impact of hunting ban

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Nearly 100 foxes were killed, as tens of thousands of hunt supporters and their dogs rode out this weekend for the first time since the Government's ban on hunting with hounds. The League Against Cruel Sports said they expected a number of prosecutions against hunters after gathering evidence of "suspicious behaviour". But after months of tension and warnings of a rural revolt, the day ended peacefully ­ unless you were a fox ­ with both sides claiming victory.

Nearly 100 foxes were killed, as tens of thousands of hunt supporters and their dogs rode out this weekend for the first time since the Government's ban on hunting with hounds. The League Against Cruel Sports said they expected a number of prosecutions against hunters after gathering evidence of "suspicious behaviour". But after months of tension and warnings of a rural revolt, the day ended peacefully ­ unless you were a fox ­ with both sides claiming victory.

The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance said that 91 foxes were killed yesterday by the 260 hunts in England and Wales. Most were legally shot but a few were "accidentally" killed by dogs. Last night supporters said that little had changed since the ban on hunting was passed last week. The alliance's chief executive Simon Hart, said yesterday was "simply the first day in the dismantling of the Hunting Act".

The South Shropshire hunt ­ whose joint master is Otis Ferry, the son of rock star Brian Ferry ­ was the first to claim a legal "kill" within an hour of setting out near Shrewsbury yesterday. Clare Rowson, an alliance spokeswoman, said: "The fox was shot, taken out of the earth and then given to the hounds."

The League Against Cruel Sports had 100 "monitors" out spying on hunts yesterday. It claimed to have "credible" evidence that four hunts deliberately and illegally killed a fox with dogs, and would be submitting its video footage to the police.

The league's campaigns director, Mike Hobday, said the number of kills claimed by the hunts was far lower than on a normal Saturday before the ban, when as many as 400 foxes were often killed. "If it is true that only 91 were killed, this is more of a step forward than we had anticipated," he said. "The vast majority of hunts have hunted legally."

Meanwhile, police in Wiltshire made the first arrests under the new legislation, detaining four men at 4am yesterday with four dogs and a hare carcass.

At official hunting meets across the country, the pro-hunting movement defiantly insisted that the new ban was a temporary problem. Actor Jeremy Irons and former Labour sports minister Kate Hoey were among many followers who condemned the ban as "prejudiced and bigoted".

Ms Hoey, the Labour MP for Vauxhall in south London, told a crowd of 3,000 cheering supporters of the Beaufort hunt in Gloucestershire, that the act would eventually be repealed.

"Legal hunting will continue until such time, in my view, as either this Government or another sees sense," she said. Irons, who was attending the Bicester Hunt in Oxfordshire, claimed the ban was "the thin end of the wedge". He added: "England is made up of minorities whether Asian or huntsmen. I believe as a nation we should be allowed to live in liberty."

Tory MP Theresa May said the new ban would become "a lawyer's paradise". Echoing earlier warnings from Ms Hoey, she claimed huge problems would be encountered enforcing the law.

Simon Hart insisted the ban would soon become an "embarrassment" to Tony Blair. "There has been hunting in England for 700 years. The ban may take years, perhaps months, to unpick. It will be nothing more than a temporary break in normal service."