It was 20 months ago that hunting with dogs was outlawed by the Hunting Act, prompting fears of irreparable damage to the rural economy.

Instead, hunts across the Midlands are reporting growing membership and increased support from local communities. A Countryside Alliance survey published yesterday shows most of the country's 185 hunts are growing in strength with more hounds, riders and members.

The survey's findings were borne out by John Griffiths, joint master of the Worcestershire Hunt.

Mr Griffiths said publicity generated by the ban appeared to have made many people in the countryside more determined than ever to support their local hunt.

He said: "We are certainly finding more people coming along.

"The ban has not had the devastating impact on the rural economy that was feared, although we did curtail breeding hounds last year. We have resumed breeding now to a limited extent."

Most hunts in England and Wales have switched to trail-hunting since they are no longer permitted to use dogs to kill foxes.

The system involves hounds following a lure doused in fox urine to flush foxes from covert, where they are then either shot or killed by birds of prey.

Anne Hartley, a member of the North Staffordshire Hunt, said there had been a noticeable increase in people wishing to join the hunt and in the number of supporters prepared to turn out to follow the hunt.

Members of the hunt remained enthusiastic although the legislation had removed much of the excitement of hunting.

Mrs Hartley said: "It's not like it was. Obviously we have to comply with the law, but it takes a considerable amount of the pleasure away.

"Like a lot of other things, hunting has become more regimented and that has taken away an element of surprise."

There has been little evidence of police monitoring of hunts and so far the only successful prosecution under the Act was a private action brought by the League Against Cruel Sports against an Exmoor farmer who became the first person to be convicted for illegal fox-hunting with dogs.

The Countryside Alliance remains committed to campaigning for the Act to be repealed on human rights grounds, arguing that the legislation threatened the livelihoods of thousands of people. The Alliance has recently concluded National Newcomers Week, timed to coincide with school half term. Philippa Mayor, of the Campaign for Hunting, said: "Hunting has never been more strongly supported and hunts are continuing in their efforts to inform more people than ever about what hunting is all about."


The Countryside Alliance survey shows that claims the ban would destroy the rural economy, with hunts being forced to dispose of hounds and staff, were misplaced. Job losses are "marginal", according to the survey

A third of the hunts consulted reported an increase in subscribers, while 90 per cent reported the same or higher levels of support since the Act came into force

The South Shropshire Hunt has 100 riders now, compared to 90 before the ban. The number of supporters claimed by the hunt has risen from 173 to 197

The Meynell and South Staffs Hunt has seen a 50 per cent increase in riders, from 60 to 90. It now has 600 supporters, compared with 550 before the ban

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