ANTI-HUNTING campaigners have warned North Yorkshire's hunts that they face a "spate of prosecutions" if they break the law when the new season begins.

The traditional hunting season gets under way at the start of November - and a number of hunts across the county have already held their opening meets.

All have pledged to hunt within the law.

Today, Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said his organisation had held high-level meetings with senior police officers and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Batchelor said: "At these meetings the police made it clear to us that they would not tolerate breaches of the hunting ban.

"I was left in little doubt that any hunters caught defying the law would find themselves in court."

But James Holt, chairman of the Sinnington Hunt, which rides near Kirkbymoorside, said: "We will be hunting within the law by exercising the hounds with permission from the landowner.

"Nationwide, there are more people hunting and supporting hunts, and that is certainly true in our case."

Nick Procter, master of the York and Ainsty South Hunt, added: "We are still going strong, and our support is holding."

The York and Ainsty South will be hunting rabbits and trail hunting.

Mr Holt said he thought the Government's anti-hunting legislation had backfired.

He said: "At last, the Government has realised that it is no good passing acts which nobody has confidence in.

"There is very little confidence that this act was well thought-out.

"As a result, it has brought the whole business of making law on the trot into disrepute."

But Mr Batchelor said a recent conviction put paid to that idea.

He said: "Hunt apologists said the act could not be enforced. The criminal conviction of Tony Wright put an end to that claim.

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

"But 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."

Supporters face prosecution in courts

With a few exceptions, the Hunting Act 2004 made it illegal to use dogs to search for or pursue a wild mammal.

In August, Tony Wright, a huntsman with the Exmoor Foxhounds, became the first hunter to be convicted of breaching the ban.

The League Against Cruel Sports has also taken out private prosecutions against Richard Down and Adrian Pillivant, huntsman and whipper-in of the Quantock Staghounds. They are due back in court on November 20.

The Crown Prosecution Service is prosecuting Maurice Scott and Peter Heard, master and whipper-in of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds. They are due back in court on November 2.