Anti-hunt campaigners are challenging the Prime Minister David Cameron to carry out his pledge for a free vote over the hunting ban, with new polling revealing eight out of ten Britons are against the ban being lifted.
This comes as a quarter of a million hunt supporters will gather at around more than 250 Boxing Day hunts across the country in the biggest annual event in the hunting calendar – with continuing calls for fox hunting to be made legal once more.
But 80 per cent of Britons are opposed to the law being changed, according to a new Ipsos Mori poll released today.
And the opposition is just as much from those who live in the countryside as those living in towns and cities, according to the survey, commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports, RSPCA and Ifaw.
An equal proportion in town and country - 80 per cent - are opposed to fox hunting being made legal.
Gavin Grant, Chief Executive of the RSPCA, said: “As a rural dweller I have always known that opposition to hunting with dogs has never been an issue of ‘town versus country’. This poll proves it once and for all.”
He warned: “The message to MPs is loud and clear. Hunting wild animals with dogs is unethical, inhumane and cruel. The British people will simply not allow a totally unrepresentative elite to re-introduce it.”
Voting in favour of abolishing the ban would be “political suicide” according to Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). “I do sense a desperation amongst the hunters because I think they are beginning to realise that one way or the other they are not going to get it made legal again.”
He added: “If they had the vote now there’d be two losers – the government and the hunters – they would lose the vote… if they want a vote we say bring it on.”
Mr Duckworth said: “I don’t think we should have a vote, I think it’s a waste of parliamentary time but the hunts have this forlorn hope that its all going to be legal again and they need to realise that’s not the case.”
But Countryside Alliance executive chairman Barney White-Spunner said: “Tackling the failed Hunting Act is a matter of trust between David Cameron, the coalition Government and the countryside. In three and a half years the Government has done nothing to address this illiberal, unjust and divisive law.” He argued that the case for overturning the ban is “unarguable” and that “Doing nothing is not an acceptable option.”
After a slow start, with just two convictions in 2005 – the year the ban came into force, the number of people found guilty of offences under the hunting act reached almost 50  in 2012, according to the latest figures.
In an attempt to remind people of the cruelty of fox hunting, cinemas across London and southern England are currently running a new advert by the League. Comedian Dave Spikey is featured in the short film, where he starts to tell a joke but his face turns grim as footage of hunting with dogs is shown. “It is shocking to think anyone would want to turn the clock back to a time when chasing animals to exhaustion and encouraging them to be ripped apart by a pack of dogs for sport was legal,” said Mr Spikey.
And hi-tech drones are being used in a new offensive against illegal hunting, with footage filmed from the skies being relayed in real time to hunt monitors on the ground – helping guide their movements as well as providing evidence which could be used in future prosecutions.
The use of drones is “operation specific” and “depends on the terrain and the weather but we are still using them and will continue to use them,” said Mr Duckworth, LACS chief executive. They will not be used on Boxing Day as “it’s mostly a ceremonial thing.”
But the idea has been dismissed as a ‘PR stunt’ by the Countryside Alliance. Mr White-Spunner, its chairman, said: “There are serious concerns about the intrusion and anxiety caused by this sort of unregulated, unauthorised surveillance carried out by dubious animal rights groups.”