Hundreds of Boxing Day hunts are set to be held across the UK today amid growing calls for tougher laws to keep foxes safe.
Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales following the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004 – which came into force a year later.
However, drag hunting – where hounds are trained to follow an artificial scent -is permitted under the legislation.
Campaigners say illegal fox hunting still continues while polls that suggest three-quarters of the UK population support jail terms for people who flout the ban on the blood sport.
The Countryside Alliance told Metro.co.uk there will be more than 200 Boxing Day hunt meets taking place across the UK, with the majority being held in England.
Meanwhile, animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports said it will continue to lobby MPs to strengthen the Hunting Act and ‘remove loopholes’ which it claims allow hunts to still get away with killing foxes for fun.
The charity’s director of campaigns, Chris Luffingham, said: ‘There has been a sea change in the way the fox hunting debate is being framed and with the ban now secure, our emphasis has shifted towards the strengthening of the Hunting Act.
‘To end fox hunting for good, the Hunting Act needs to be strengthened by removing the loopholes and exemptions being exploited by the fox hunts to cover up their brutal activities.
‘The introduction of prison sentences for those convicted of fox hunting would help ensure there is a strong deterrent to prevent the deliberate and widespread chasing and killing of foxes.’
The charity said it had received 184 reports of suspected illegal fox hunting since the season began in late October.
Activists claim most MPs now say they are against fox-hunting, putting pressure on the Conservative government to tighten legislation.
In 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron brought a vote on repealing the ban but it was shelved after SNP opposition.
Boris Johnson dropped a vote on the ban from the Conservatives’ election manifesto.
A recent YouGov poll found nearly three-quarters of people supported prison sentences for illegal foxhunting.
Luke Pollard MP, shadow environment, food and rural affairs minister, said: ‘Fox hunting is cruel, unnecessary and unpopular. It should be consigned to the history books.
‘The Prime Minister must ensure his majority is not used to allow the return of fox hunting.
‘Labour will use every opportunity to enhance and strengthen the Hunting Act, reviewing penalties to make sure there is an effective deterrent for illegal hunting, and introducing a “recklessness” clause to stop trail hunts being used to kill foxes.’
Queen star Brian May said he will support a humane bloodhound hunt on Boxing Day to highlight the cruelty-free side of recreational hunting.
The guitarist and animal rights campaigner will join the Three Counties Bloodhounds, a ‘friendly family run pack’, for its annual event in Swansea on Thursday alongside Byron John, the master of the ‘clean boot’ hunt.
The event will see riders on horseback and their team of hounds chasing a human runner instead of a fox.
The Countryside Alliance said that their research showed only one in 20 adults in the UK thought of fox hunting as an important environment issue.
They have also attacked the Hunting Act, saying ‘it never really had anything to do with animal welfare.’
Head of Hunting, Polly Portwin, added: ‘It was a misplaced and prejudiced attack on a group within the rural community by those on the left of politics who think class war is a legitimate aim.
‘Since the Hunting Act was enforced, hunts have adapted their hunting activities, retained their infrastructure, continued to wear traditional hunt dress and established a long-term and viable future for hunting, all of which has frustrated those who thought hunts would disband following the implementation of the Hunting Act.
‘The animal rights lobby simply cannot accept that huntsmen wearing red coats survive, regardless of the fact that their actions are legitimate.’