ONE of the first hunts of the season took place on Tuesday as the national debate over fox hunting continues.

It was a damp and misty morning in Teesdale, County Durham, when the familiar sight of huntsmen and women in their traditional garb appeared on the horizon.

The Zetland Hunt, one of the oldest in the country, enjoyed its second outing of the season and the party gathered near the village of Woodland before heading off on the trail.

Since the Hunting Act came into force ten years ago, the group has used hounds to track an artificial scent rather than foxes.

They claim hunts have more public support than ever and still attract a large field of riders.

Tuesday was no exception with at least 30 riders turning out, a slightly lower number than usual due to the weather.

Zetland is one of 289 registered packs of hounds across Britain.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said he hoped the Hunting Act would soon be consigned to history.

“The Hunting Act means that many of the packs of harriers, foxhounds, beagles, bassetts and mink hounds now follow a trail, but most also continue to carry out wildlife management under the exemptions put into the Hunting Act by MPs who realised that populations of some mammals have to be controlled.

“We had hoped that the new season would have been marked by small amendments to the Hunting Act were to have come before Parliament in July.

"These would have varied the number of hounds allowed to be used by hunts when flushing mammals out to be shot.

"However, despite evidence showing that being able to use more dogs is more effective, and potentially more humane, and the support of a majority of MPs in Government, the vote was called off.”

However, the League Against Cruel Sports has refuted his argument, describing fox hunting as pointless, cruel and illegal.

Tom Quinn, campaigns director, said: “Hunt supporters will cry foul play and tell you that fox hunting is necessary for wildlife management.

“A world expert on foxes reveals that hunting is an unnecessary and even counter-productive activity because foxes are not the pests that hunts like to claim.

“A new report from Professor Stephen Harris from the University of Bristol shows that hunting does not reduce fox populations and killing foxes can in fact increase their numbers in a given area as more turn to up to compete for the vacant territory.”