A FIGHT to end the 10-year ban on hunting with dogs over the Lake District fells is set to come to a head as the new Parliament gets under way, campaigners have said.

Battle lines are being drawn as Lakeland hunt supporters join the Countryside Alliance in calling for the controversial Hunting Act to be overturned.

Local fell packs have said they will do “whatever it takes” to end the ban, claiming the law was based on “ignorance and prejudice.”

But animal rights campaigners, including the League Against Cruel Sports, say they are also lobbying MPs to “make sure this cruel sport stays consigned to the history books.”

According to a website for enforcement professionals, there have been more than 340 successful prosecutions under the Hunting Act since 2005.

The Tories’ election manifesto pledged to give Parliament the opportunity to repeal it on a free vote with a Government bill.

Now, with a majority Conservative government in place, the Countryside Alliance is urging the party to make good on its pledge, and says it is confident “not more than a dozen” MPs will vote to keep the ban.

Newly re-elected Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart, who has been made a junior minister at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), would play a key role in overseeing any new legislation to do with hunting. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Cumbria’s fell packs have said they are “right behind” the battle to overturn it.

Roger Westmorland, of Coniston Foxhounds, said he would do “whatever it takes”, and was due to meet with MPs in London this week about the issue.

“I don’t know what the meeting will bring but all the hunting fraternities are really pushing it.”

On the effects of the ban over the past decade Mr Westmorland said: “In my opinion it’s made solicitors and lawyers an awful lot of money and wildlife has benefited nothing, it’s only made their persecution more unscrupulous.

“The ban was based purely on prejudice and ignorance.”

Secretary of the Central Committee of Fell Packs, Neil Salisbury said a repeal of the Hunting Act would “put fox control back into the hands of the country people.”

“We have all still been operating within the law but we feel unable to provide a proper service to the fell farming community,” he said.

“Membership has increased since the ban came into effect, and our support from farmers is as strong as ever.

“The law had nothing to do with foxes – it was a political move by Tony Blair who has admitted himself that it was a mistake.”

Director of Campaigns at the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, called the Hunting Act “an imposition on the hunting community and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

“The vast majority of MPs understand this law is a mess and needs to be repealed,” he claimed.

“We have to deal with the common misconception that every hunter is a posh, red coat wearing aristocrat.

“We think that it should be up to farmers and managers, who understand how to manage fox populations, in particular in upland areas where hunts are often the most effective method of fox control.”

But Mr Bonner said the pro-hunting lobby would be ‘very open’ to looking at new legislation to replace the Hunting Act, explaining: “We’re not fixed on going back to a position where there’s no regulation.”

However, the League Against Cruel Sports said it was working “with all the parties to ensure this vital legislation stays on the statute books.”

Chris Pitt, Deputy Campaign Director for the League, said 80 per cent of the British public want hunting to remain illegal.

“We believe the Hunting Act could be strengthened a bit to stop people from jumping through loopholes, but basically it’s a vital and successful piece of legislation,” he said.

“Hunting with hounds is not pest control, nor ‘wildlife management’. It’s not a class issue, nor a town-vs-country argument. It’s nothing but a cruel sport that was consigned to the history books, and we believe that there will be enough MPs who will vote to make sure it stays there.”

More than 310,000 people have signed an online petition urging David Cameron to keep the ban on fox hunting, calling it a “vicious and outdated pastime.”

Lancaster Hunt Sabs are urging people to sign the petition, with a message on the group’s Facebook page saying: “We need to let this government know that killing animals for fun is not acceptable in a civilised society.”

South Lakes MP Tim Farron said a straightforward repeal “would just replace one bad situation with another.”

“I would like to see the Hunting Act replaced with a more comprehensive animal welfare bill which also protects the right of farmers to protect their livestock,” he added.

Country Land and Business Association North Regional Director Dorothy Fairburn said: “The Hunting Act is confusing and simply doesn’t work, which is why it needs to be reformed."