Hope grows that hunting will resume next month in FMD-free areas.

A memo from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs foot-and-mouth division to Minister of State Alun Michael has indicated that hunts are to be licensed to ensure procedures are enforced to prevent a flare-up of the disease.

This follows the completion of a veterinary risk assessment report, which is understood to have been handed to DEFRA several weeks ago.

The delay in publishing the report has provoked outrage from the pro-hunting lobby.

Director of the Countryside Alliance Campaign for Hunting Simon Hart called for the immediate publication of the report: “We want to be able to plan for a resumption whether it is next week or next month.”

Farmers have complained about the effect of a growing fox population and insist that hunting be allowed to resume before the next lambing season.

Director of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association Alastair Jackson said it was: “Totally unreasonable that ministers have been sitting on the publication for weeks”.

Responding to the safeguards set down by Whitehall, Mr Jackson was adamant that their own conditions were “likely to be tougher”.

An announcement from DEFRA is expected later this week.