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
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
News
Rainbow List
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Life and Style
Gap announced its same-store sales were down 6 per cent in August, and 3 per cent in September
fashionAlexander Fury explains where Gap is going wrong
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
Sport
football
News
politics
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Latest stories from i100
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker