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Though hunting foxes with packs of dogs has been banned since 2005, activists believe legal trail hunting is used as cover to target the creatures.

Campaigners on Monday will step up their fight to bolster anti-hunting laws as riders gather for their biggest day of the year.

Traditional Boxing Day hunts were postponed for 24 hours because it fell on a Sunday this year – meaning thousands of huntsmen and women will tear across the countryside.

Polly Portwin, director of the campaign for hunting at the Countryside Alliance, said: “Festive meets such as the hundreds taking place outside today are hugely popular and well attended by both hunt followers and local communities, for whom the event has become a cherished family tradition.

“While this year many are likely to be smaller scale than usual, they still provide a big boost both socially and economically throughout the countryside, as does trail hunting throughout the season.”

Though hunting foxes with packs of dogs has been banned since 2005, activists believe legal trail hunting is used as cover to target the creatures.







The annual Boxing Day meet, pictured in Bedford Square, Tavistock
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Earlier this year, a senior huntsman was found guilty of encouraging and assisting people to evade the ban on fox hunting by using trail hunting, telling a webinar: “It’s a lot easier to create a smokescreen if you’ve got more than one trail layer operating.”

He is appealing against his conviction.

Labour has vowed to ban trail hunting on public land, following moves by the National Trust and some local councils.

League Against Cruel Sports director of external affairs Chris Luffingham said on Sunday: “We know, and it has been found in court, that hunters use the excuse of so-called trail hunting to carry on as they always have.

“Their breathtaking arrogance in thinking the rules simply don’t apply to them cannot be tolerated by the general public any longer, who are getting very adept at seeing through the pathetic smokescreen of half truths and lies.”

He added: “It’s time all major landowners permanently banned trail hunting on their land, and that the Government strengthens the Hunting Act to ensure its loopholes can no longer be exploited.”

Writing exclusively in today’s Mirror, former Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard stepped-up calls for the law to be beefed-up to protect wild animals.

“I have long urged the Government to strengthen the Hunting Act 2004, and promoted Labour’s 50-point Animal Welfare policy that pledged to do the same,” he says.







Shadow Environment Secretary, Jim McMahon
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“But in the wake of this verdict – the confirmation of what we have long known to be true – it is more important than ever that the Government strengthens the Act.

“It must close loopholes which allow trail hunting and exempt hunting to be used as covers for illegal hunting.”

Current Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon said that “allowing hunts to go ahead on public and government-owned land is completely irresponsible”.

He urged: “The Government must do more to close the loopholes that allow people to break the law, and consign hunting to the history books, where the vast majority of us believe it belongs.”

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