A MAJORITY of people support tougher rules on fox hunting backed up by prison sentences for those who break the law, a poll suggests.

Politicians have been urged to strengthen the Hunting Act to close what animal welfare campaigners describe as "loopholes" that allow the killing of foxes - and to back up the rules with prison sentences.

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Though hunting with dogs was made illegal in 2004, groups can still go "trail" hunting, in which a trail is laid for hounds to follow, but during such events they can also pick up a real scent, leading to foxes being killed.

The League Against Cruel Sports wants to see the Hunting Act strengthened to introduce a "recklessness" clause to prevent the use of trail hunting as a reason for the accidental killing of foxes by hunts.

Strengthening the Act would also include measures to remove exemptions and introduce prison sentences for people who are convicted of illegal hunting, the animal welfare group said.

A survey for the League by YouGov found six in 10 people (60 per cent) thought that illegal hunting should be punishable by a prison sentence as well as, or instead of, the current fines that can be levied.

That compares to just a fifth (21 per cent) of people who thought prison sentences should not be introduced, and 19 per cent who said they did not know.

Some 61 per cent of the 1,639 people quizzed thought that it should be made illegal to hunt a fox during trail hunting as a result of reckless behaviour, while only 16 per cent disagreed and 23 per cent said they did not know.

Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said the Hunting Act had been threatened with weakening and repeal by successive governments.

In 2017, the Conservatives promised a free vote on the Act in their general election manifesto.

He said: "It's now time for political parties to adopt tougher fox hunting laws that reflect the wishes of the general public who are united against hunting.

"Fox hunting is a barbaric activity which has no place in a modern, compassionate society of animal lovers and yet it is still taking place.

"Tougher legislation, coupled with the introduction of prison sentences for illegal hunting will help to end the brutal killing of our wildlife."

But Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "It is quite extraordinary that anyone can think that obsessing over people wearing red jackets, riding horses and taking part in legal activity is a priority at this of all times.

"Hunts operate legally, prosecutions are incredibly rare and the countryside faces any number of huge challenges from Brexit, to climate change, to flooding."