AN anti-hunting organisation has placed prominent adverts in newspapers across the south-west calling on residents to contact police if they think they have seen hunts acting suspiciously.

The quarter-page adverts, inserted by the well-funded global company the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), feature a close-up of a fox cub, and declare: “He’s only a few months old, but already they could be baying for his blood.”

They continue: “The [IFAW] believes that a cruel and illegal activity could be taking place in your area. Some people may be training their hounds by setting them upon fox cubs.”

It suggests that people seeing “suspicious behaviour” should call the police.

The Countryside Alliance (CA) branded the campaign irresponsible and said it illustrated the increasing desperation of the anti-hunting lobby.

“There are often letter-writing campaigns at this time of year, but this is the first time we have heard of adverts of this nature,” said the CA’s Tim Bonner. “The worrying thing is they encourage people to waste police time.”

The advert has appeared in papers such as the Western Morning News and Bristol Evening Post, and can be seen on the IFAW website (www.ifaw.org). The website also carries a detailed guide on “how to identify signs of cubhunting”, and recommends that the public calls 999 if they witness a “wildlife crime”.

A spokesman from Devon and Somerset Police was unable to comment on the issue of wasting police time, but said: “If they are asking people to dial 999, that is a number for emergencies only, such as public safety issues.

“If someone is not in danger of being injured or assaulted, the call will be downgraded.”

Mr Bonner said there has been a high level of hunt monitor activity in the first few days of the autumn hunting season in Gloucestershire and the West Country.

“Hunt monitors have been very visible, waiting outside kennels, filming and so on.

“Combined with these adverts, it suggests there is an increasing desperation in the anti-hunting movement.

“They know the politics are against them and that the Hunting Act is on borrowed time,” he said, adding: “The balance of power is changing away from the League Against Cruel Sports [LACS] and towards IFAW, a limited company that raises a lot of its money on issues such as seal clubbing and saving the whale.”

Alison Hawes, the CA’s regional manager for the south-west, said four full-time, salaried LACS monitors operate in her area, where there are 47 hunts.

“We’re the most heavily monitored district in the country,” said Ms Hawes. “This year they want results.”

A spokesman for IFAW said: “We’re not asking people to waste police time, but trying to facilitate the gathering of useful information. We’d heard reports from our monitors of suspicious behaviour in relation to cubbing, which takes place early in the morning and often on private land.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (11 September, ’08)