“COME and get me!”

That’s the invitation being issued by TV wildlife expert Chris Packham, who is urging the New Forest Hounds (NFH) to switch from trail hunting to another form of the sport.

Chris, who lives in the Forest, is volunteering to be the hunt’s first human quarry if it changes to drag hunting.

He spoke out after visiting the New Year’s Day hunt at Linwood, near Ringwood, and filming a video which has since had more than 500,000 views.

Hunting with dogs was outlawed by the last Labour government. Since then the NFH and other hunts have turned to trail hunting, which involves hounds chasing an artificial scent.

(Below: A video of Chris Packham speaking generally about hunting - there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of the New Forest Hunt.)

But critics claim it can result in hunts breaking the law by pursuing a fox – either accidentally or deliberately.

Chris wants the NFH to switch to drag hunting, with hounds tracking either a human runner or a chemical scent.

The popular BBC Springwatch presenter told the Daily Echo: “If the New Forest Hounds did that, I would be happy to be their first human quarry.”

Hunts in some other parts of the UK have faced allegations that the bloodsport has continued under the guise of trail hunting.

Chris Pitt, the deputy director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Wild animals, including foxes, hare and deer, are still being chased to exhaustion before being torn to pieces.”

Mr Pitt said more than 85% of people opposed all forms of hunting.

He added: “There is strong support for British wildlife being given robust protection from those who kill for sport. How can we call ourselves a civilised nation when those who gain entertainment from attacking wildlife continue to go unpunished by the law?”

Chris Packham added: “Foxhunting is a highly-emotive activity which has no place in the contemporary environment – and everyone knows that.

“The law is constantly contravened. Foxes are being torn to pieces in people’s front gardens and pets are being chased.

“We have to make peaceful, democratic progress in ending this practice.

“It’s very difficult to monitor foxhunting and it’s also very difficult when things go wrong to get a successful prosecution. Police are under-resourced and have many other things to deal with.

“If hunts switched to drag hunting it would have a positive impact in public relations terms as well as having a positive impact on wildlife.

“I’m not saying it’s the whole answer but it would be a step in the right direction.”

Last night a NFH spokesman said: “We thank Chris Packham for his offer of being hunted by the New Forest Hounds but we don’t think it would be practical.

“We spent a lot of time and effort in getting our hounds to switch to trail hunting. We think it would be even more difficult, perhaps even impossible, to get them to switch to drag hunting.

“It would go against 250 years of breeding.”