TODAY sees the start of the new hunting season - but foxes in Hampshire can rest easy.

Bloodsport enthusiasts in the county have vowed to continue obeying a controversial new law that bans the hunting of wild animals with dogs.

Centuries of rural tradition came to an end in February last year when foxhunting became a criminal offence.

Anti-cruelty campaigners have warned hunters that they face a "spate of prosecutions" if they flout the ban during the new season.

However, hunting enthusiasts in the New Forest and many other parts of the country have switched to trail hunting, which involves the pursuit of an artificially laid scent.

Graham Ferris, spokesman for the New Forest Hounds (NFH) said: "Since the ban we have worked hard to make trail hunting work.

"We have devised ways of improving it and are now able to offer people a full day's sport.

"We are very happy to continue with trail hunting and stay within the law until such time as the ban is overturned."

Mr Ferris was responding to a statement issued by Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, who referred to meetings he had held with senior police officers and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Batchelor said: "The police made it clear that they would not tolerate breaches of the hunting ban.

"We hope those hunts going out today do no more than ride across the countryside. If that's all they do we'll have no complaints.

"However, any hotheads who think they can behave as they did in the past should be aware that they are being monitored and will find themselves in court if they break the law."

l Although the new season starts today, the NFH's first meet will not take place until next Saturday, when members will gather at Fritham.