FOX hunters and their opponents clashed this week after the Coniston Foxhounds were accused of showing support for a pro-hunting organisation described as extremist, reports Ellis Butcher.

The North West League Against Cruel Sports said the Coniston hunt uses a trailer to transport hounds, which bears a sticker issued by a group called the Real Countryside Alliance.

But the Coniston hunt laughed of the claims, accusing the league of "scraping the bottom of the barrel" and said it should consider the behaviour of hunt saboteurs before making accusations.

The Real Countryside Alliance is an anonymous breakaway group of the national Countryside Alliance, and was formed in 2002, pledging more direct action over the hunting issue.

Huntsman Mike Nicholson said the sticker had been there for two years. He said he believed it had been issued by a union. "All it is, is a little green Union Jack," said Mr Nicholson.

"I had never noticed it had the Real CA on it. I only put it up because it had free country on it."

Mr Nicholson said he did not know who the Real CA were and was intending to seek legal advice, describing the league's claims as "personal."

The Real CA was condemned by the national Countryside Alliance, which distanced itself from the group and criticised its use of paramilitary-style symbolism.

The league said Tom Fell, the South Lakeland-based director of the Countryside Alliance, should "condemn and expel" joint masters Roger and Doreen Westmorland, Ernie Shepherd and Mr Nicholson over the issue.

A statement on behalf of Mr Fell, issued by the Countryside Alliance, read: "These animal rights extremists need to look closer to home before calling for resignations.

"So the League Against Cruel Sports is asking the Countryside Alliance to expel a huntsman for putting a green sticker on his vehicle? LACS is grasping at straws. They are not winning the argument in Parliament and they are not winning the argument among the British people. A majority of both the public and the members of both houses of Parliament are in favour of keeping hunting with dogs."

Ernie Shepherd, of the Coniston hunt, said he did not support the Real CA and suggested the incident was mischief making.

"To me, it's a load of rubbish. There is no sticker I know of that does anyone any harm," he said.

Alison Bolt, of the North Lonsdale Foxhounds, said: "The Real CA have been very quiet lately. A lot of their protests were designed to irritate more than anything and raise the profile of the fox hunting debate. But they never set out to cause personal harm to anyone."