Rural tension to reach new high on Boxing Day

Both pro and anti groups cry foul before biggest day in hunting calendar

Animosity between fox hunters and their opponents is more heated than at any time since the hunting ban was introduced in Britain eight years ago, both sides cautioned this weekend, just days before the biggest hunting day of the year.

A quarter of a million people are expected to attend a Boxing Day hunt this Wednesday, with more than 45,000 on horseback. But as pro-hunters claim that "saboteurs" have "upped the ante" in recent months, their opponents respond that they are having to police a rise in illegal fox hunting themselves.

About 80 per cent of hunts surveyed by the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance say at least as many foxes are being killed now as before the ban came into force. Although the Hunting Act 2004 banned traditional hunting with hounds, exemptions allow landowners to flush out a fox from cover to be shot, using no more than two dogs.

There are allegations of illegality and foul play by both camps. The RSPCA's successful prosecution last week of the Oxfordshire-based Heythrop Hunt, with which the Prime Minister has ridden, for hunting a wild fox illegally further inflamed antipathy. A group of MPs and peers including Lord Heseltine yesterday accused the animal rescuers of breaching charity regulations.

More than 400 people had been prosecuted under the Hunting Act by 2011 and almost 300 were found guilty. But both sides attempt to claim these statistics for their side of the argument. Hunt supporters say only eight convictions between 2005 and 2010 involved employees of registered hunts, while their opponents claim authorities in the countryside are not policing the ban stringently. Exemptions in the legislation allow huntsmen to lay down a man-laid scent for their hounds, which anti-hunters say makes it hard to show illegal activity; if a dog smells a fox and veers off the trail, it's hard to prove that hunt riders are following it with intent to kill.

The League Against Cruel Sports said it had received almost three times as many calls about "suspicious" illegal hunting activity to its Wildlife Crimewatch line this year as it did in 2010: almost 400 calls from more than 135 different organisations. More than 60 per cent of the reports related to crimes against foxes.

Joe Duckworth, the chief executive of the League, said: "There is a war in the countryside and we will get more calls than ever on Boxing Day this year." The organisation, which is investing an additional £1m in its operations team, has quadrupled the number of investigators working covertly in the field this season. The League said their data suggests "a heavy leaning towards illegal fox hunting".

Lorraine Platt, the co-founder of Conservatives against Fox Hunting, said: "People are wilfully flouting the ban to prove it is unenforceable." She added that the issue "polarises people more than any other issue; feelings are running very high".

Charlie Warde-Aldam, a former hunt master with Badsworth and Bramham Moor for almost three decades, knows this first-hand. He says he was attacked in October, while he was hosting a hunt meet with his 12-year-old daughter, by people he described as anti-hunting protesters. Eight people arrested on suspicion of assault have been bailed until next month, according to South Yorkshire police. Mr Warde-Aldam said: "Hunt saboteurs have had a change in ethos – it's like they have sent round an internal memo, which reads: 'Up the Ante'."

The head of investigations at the League, Paul Tillsley, also believes tensions are "higher than they have been for a while. They were high when the Hunting Act came in and now, because people are starting to get prosecuted, they're back up; people feel under threat."

Mr Tillsley was hit with a whip by David Bevan, from the West Somerset Vale Foxhounds, who admitted common assault. Mr Tillsley said: "Hunts have become more confident they can get away with things. It's back to the old days for them, but I can't go into pubs without being at risk from being abused by hunt supporters."

The Countryside Alliance denied that illegal hunting was on the rise and stressed that it was still campaigning for the ban to be repealed. A spokesman said: "There are more than 300 registered hunts operating in the UK which carry out a combined total of around 20,000 days' hunting a year. Given the general level of confusion about hunting and the Hunting Act it is no surprise that the LACS receives a few hundred phone calls."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape