“We’ve more people on the ground, our biggest investigations team ever and better links with the police, so be careful.”
That’s the warning from the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), which has told H&H it is ‘upping the ante’ with its monitoring activities this season.
New chairman Joe Duckworth has declared that his focus will be very much on ‘pushing for prosecutions for hunting offences’.
To this end, LACS says it has taken on more personnel — including a former Special Branch officer to head up its intelligence department — and invested in a new database and monitoring equipment.
It is also building up a £1.5m fund for when the vote on repeal comes.
But Tim Bonner from the Hunting Office dismisses the claims as ‘bravado’.
He said: “The bottom line is that for all this effort and all their talk, it’s unlikely that LACS will achieve a single prosecution from the 2010-11 season.”
Two hunts currently face separate prosecutions under the Hunting Act.
And Mr Bonner says levels of activity by monitors and saboteurs are still way down from their heyday in the 1980s.
“It’s now a very small rump,” he said. “On an average Saturday, there’ll be 40 to 60 out around the country, whereas 20 years ago, a single hunt could get more than 100.”
But he cautions that hunts must still know the law ‘inside and out’.
There is some anecdotal evidence that anti activity is creeping up.
H&H’s hunting editor Catherine Austen said: “I was surprised to see them out at 6am recently and more of them than usual.”
Mark Sprake, who is joint-master of the Surrey Union, said that while antis haven’t troubled them this season, he has noticed their numbers increasing.
“They quietened down immediately after the ban,” he told H&H. “But they have gradually come back over the past couple of seasons. It’s the same old faces.”
For Michael Thompson, master of the Blencathra, it’s a different story.
He says the level of attention the ‘John Peel hunt’ has attracted has been “consistently bad the whole way through”.
“You have got to be professional at all times,” he said. “You are only as good as your last game. We act as if they are there all the time.”
This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (15 September, 2011)