CUMBRIA'S hunting community has unveiled an arsenal of controversial tactics that would allow them to continue with their sport in the face of an imminent ban.

Tom Fell, Cumbrian director of pro hunting organisation the Countryside Alliance, said that hunt members had been scouring legislation passed last November for legal loopholes that would allow them to keep on with the pursuit within the confines of the law if the ban was implemented on February 18.

A challenge launched by the alliance against the legality of the 1949 Parliament Act, which was used by the Government to force through the ban, has already been heard by the High Court, which will deliver its verdict today (January 28). The court of appeal has indicated it is ready to hear an appeal in early February with a verdict before the ban comes into effect.

If this challenge fails the organisation says it may seek an injunction to prevent the implementation of the law. The CA is also planning to lodge a separate challenge next week at the European Court of Human Rights.

But huntsmen are still searching for ways of continuing their sport in case the ban is implemented.

"We are keen to explore every option, although I am urging people to stay within the boundaries of the law it isn't my wish to see decent, honest people fined and imprisoned," said Mr Fell.

One possible tactic, which was under discussion, would involve using hounds to flush a hare or fox into the talons of a bird of prey, he said.

Flushing out mammals to be caught by a bird is not an offence, although a trained falconer would probably have to be on hand to supervise the procedure.

"There are no restrictions on using a pack of hounds to flush out mammals to a bird of prey. The method has been used with spaniels to drive a bird or rabbit to a hawk or eagle," said Mr Fell.

"Eagles also take foxes and in Scotland the remains of foxes have been found in their eyries. I have also heard from friends who often visit the Czech Republic, that it is quite common for them to use golden eagles to catch quite large mammals. To use them to catch foxes is something that is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility," he said.

But High Bentham bird of prey expert Nick Henderson said that although in some countries eagles were used as a method of fox control, he felt that using hounds to flush them out was "a ridiculous suggestion."

"Who is to say that the dogs would not attack the bird? It is unlikely that the eagle would fight back. I don't know of any falconer that would risk his bird like that, although a golden eagle would catch and eat a three - quarters grown fox without any problem."

Mr Fell said that another method could involve shooting a fox before the hunt set out and then its corpse could be dragged around the countryside, while hounds followed its scent.

"That method is also being explored because these hounds have been trained for years to pursue real foxes rather than synthetic drags," he said.

Other ideas include using a maximum of two hounds to flush out foxes for shooting, which will be allowed, or claiming that hounds are chasing rabbits or rats, which are legal quarry.

Many of Cumbria's fell packs say they plan to meet on February 19, whatever the outcome, along with most hunts across the country to show their defiance at the legislation.

Field master of the Lunesdale Foxhounds Malcolm Robinson said he was expecting "a large turnout" for the meet on February 19. And joint Master of the Coniston Foxhounds Doreen Westmoreland said that the hunt also planned to meet on February 19, as an act of defiance.

But many questions over how best to police the ban are still far from being answered.

Cumbria Police spokesman Greg Stephenson said that the constabulary had set up a working group to discuss how to deal with the legislation, although he was unable to comment on how police would be deployed.

"We are still formulating our policy towards any legislation which may come into force," he said.

But one senior officer with Cumbria Police said that he did not envisage "hordes of police officers" turning out to help with the protest.

"My personal view is that hunting does not feature in our list of priorities. Tackling violent crime and drugs must come first," he said.