The government is facing calls to crack down on a hunting loophole after figures suggested that hundreds of suspected illegal incidents took place in just five weeks.
The League Against Cruel Sports said there were 303 combined incidents of hunt havoc (trespass, road interference and disturbing animals) and illegal fox hunting between 1 November and 7 December.
It said there were 78 reports of a fox being visibly pursued, eight reported kills and three suspected kills during that period.
Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales under the Hunting Act 2004, which came into force in 2005, but hounds are allowed to follow a scented cloth instead – called trail hunting.
Labour said that this is being used as a “smokescreen” for the illegal hunting of foxes.
The league’s figures were released to coincide with Boxing Day, the biggest day in the hunting calendar, with more than 200 hunts expected to parade through UK high streets before they head out to the countryside.
Spokesperson Emma Judd said it was time the government “came on board with public opinion”, adding: “Only by strengthening the law on hunting can communities, wildlife and rural values be protected.”
‘Extremely warped priorities’
Revealing figures showing that 438 convictions – including 42 last year – were secured since 2010 under the Hunting Act, shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said the government must “consign hunting to the history books”.
But Polly Portwin, the head of the Countryside Alliance’s Campaign for Hunting, said: “There have been hundreds of thousands of days of legal trail hunting carried out by hunts since the Hunting Act came into force.
“Only someone with extremely warped priorities could think that with the country facing a cost of living crisis, the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and political instability that now is a good time to start discussing hunting legislation.”
A UK government spokesman said: “The Hunting Act 2004 makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with dogs, and anyone who believes that an offence has taken place should report the matter to the police.
“Those found guilty under the act are subject to the full force of the law.”
In Scotland, environment minister Mairi McAllan said loopholes around hunting will be closed as the Hunting With Dogs Bill goes through its final stage in 2023.