THE HUNTING season got underway in the Risborough area last weekend with the first major outings since the ban on hunting with hounds came into force.

Members of the Vale of Aylesbury Hunt have vowed to continue hunting but stressed they are not killing foxes illegally. The season started on November 1.

The law permits dogs to be used to "flush out" foxes to a waiting gun or bird of prey, but no more than two dogs should be involved.

Inspector Pete Downing from Thames Valley Police said: "I am confident the hunts have changed their activities to comply with the law. However, illegal hunting will be treated as wildlife crime, and any allegations robustly investigated."

Vale of Aylesbury hunter Annie South said: "It is a ridiculous law, but we are not law-breakers. We will continue to hunt within the law until such time as it is repealed. We hope it is only a matter of time."

The hunt's area stretches from Leighton Buzzard to Reading, making it the largest one in the country.

Insp Downing warned against anyone jumping to conclusions that illegal hunting is happening. "If people see hounds and people on horseback, it does not necessarily mean that an illegal activity is taking place. But if an animal is being pursued then you should contact police," he said.

Hunt monitor Judy Gilbert from the League Against Cruel Sports and Protect Our Wild Animals said that campaigners and police will continue to watch for signs of banned activity.

"No one is above the law. If people continue to push it to its extremes, the police are taking more interest.

"We want them to stop killing wild animals for fun," she said.