An animal welfare charity has released figures which it says reveal the 'shocking impact' illegal hunts are having on rural communities in Dorset.

The League Against Cruel Sports has released figures which show Dorset is the county in Britain with the highest combined figure for suspected illegal hunting and hunt havoc.

Out of 180 reports of suspected illegal hunting across Britain, 28 occurred in Dorset, the charity says.

And out of 171 reports of hunts marauding on private and public land nationwide, 15 were in Dorset. 

These include, the charity says, hunts intimidating individuals and communities, hunting on roads, and chasing livestock.

Chris Luffingham, director of external affairs at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "These incidents clearly show the impact hunting has on rural communities in Dorset, as well as wildlife, despite it being banned.

South West Farmer: Fox cubs are often targeted by the hunts between August and SeptemberFox cubs are often targeted by the hunts between August and September (Image: Image: League Against Cruel Sports)

"It’s time for change and to strengthen legislation to properly ban hunting and end this brutal and sordid so-called sport once and for all."

Of the 90 eyewitness reports of foxes being chased across Britain, 19 took place in Dorset.

One of the worst offending hunts in the whole of Britain, the charity says, was the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt based in Charlton Horethorne, near Sherborne.

South West Farmer: Blackford and Sparkford Vale Hunt seen chasing a fox through the graveyard of the church in Charlton Horethorne | Image: K HillBlackford and Sparkford Vale Hunt seen chasing a fox through the graveyard of the church in Charlton Horethorne | Image: K Hill (Image: Image: K Hill)

Blackford and Sparkford Vale Hunt seen chasing a fox through the graveyard of the church in Charlton Horethorne. Picture: K Hill

Eyewitnesses saw the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt visibly pursuing 11 foxes, with two reported kills and one suspected kill, they say.

In just one day on October 22, 2022, the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt was seen chasing four foxes by North Dorset Hunt Sabateurs.

The Dorset-based Portman Hunt was said to be among the worst offenders with eyewitnesses reporting 12 cases of suspected illegal hunting and eight cases of hunt havoc.

Polling stats from The League Against Cruel Sports found that voters in Dorset backed moves to stregthen the Hunting Act by 76 per cent.

Mr Luffingham added: "The League represents the views of the majority of rural residents in calling for the law to be strengthened and seeing an end to the havoc hunts cause in the countryside."

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Polly Portwin is the Director of the Countryside Alliance's Campaign for Hunting,and said she disagrees with the need for strengthening hunting legislation.

She said: "The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) has spent the last 20 years making ridiculous claims about hunting in a bid to justify its existence, yet nearly every time it makes allegations to the police or a court they are found to be false.

"Only someone with extremely warped priorities could think that with the country facing a cost of living crisis, the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and political instability that now is a good time to start discussing hunting legislation.

"Hunting with dogs was banned in 2004 after 700 hours of parliamentary debate and Labour subsequently lost nearly all of its rural seats.

"Any politician who sought to repeat that fiasco would be judged as completely out of touch with rural reality."

A spokesperson for the Portman Hunt said: "Our hunt fully operates within the confines of the Hunting Act and does not condone illegal activity.

"We are constantly under the watch of self-appointed monitors and other groups who regularly trespass and they also target indivuals and businesses that support the hunt on social media."

In response, Mr Luffingham said: "If we extend the logic of the Countryside Alliance that we shouldn’t highlight our concerns about fox hunting due to the current political instability then should everyone be ignoring all the other areas of suspected illegal activity taking place across Britain?

"What the last 20 years has shown us is that the Hunting Act needs to be strengthened to end fox hunting once and for all, with prison sentences introduced to act as a proper deterrent to hunts.

"Our polling shows that fox hunting is universally unpopular with the public, including the vast majority of people living in the British countryside – they are sickened by the impact of hunts not only on wildlife but also by the havoc they cause to local communities and rural residents."