To shouts of "coward" and the hoot of the hunting horn, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael arrived at Kendal on Friday to deliver a keynote speech on rural services.

The now familiar crowd of heckling hunters lay in wait for the minister whose department is responsible for the ban on hunting with hounds.

Around 40 placard-waving protesters from Cumbria's hunt packs made their point with hounds wearing signs reading death sentence' and a notice branding him A Lying Untrustworthy Nobody'.

They jeered as Alison Bolt, of the North Londsdale hunt, broke the news before the assembled media that Mr Michael had refused to come outside and speak with protesters or accept a meeting with a delegation of two hunt supporters.

Instead, the MP was escorted by Cumbria Police past the protesters from his room at the Castle Green Hotel and into its conference suite in order to, as he put it, "show my face so I could be shouted at a bit".

"It's extremely cowardly that a member of Parliament won't come out and talk to the people," complained Mike Nicholson, of the Coniston Fox Hounds. "My job is on the line here. I have 48 hounds at the moment with a very insecure future."

Mrs Bolt added: "I don't think he knows the first thing about hunting. He seems to think the only reason people go hunting is so they can wear red coats, ride cross country and have a glass of sherry afterwards, which is absolute rubbish."

Branding the hunt ban both unworkable and cruel, James Bates, the Countryside Alliance's Cumbria spokesman, thought it perverse that Mr Michael was delivering a speech on rural regeneration at the National Rural Affairs Conference.

"We find it hypocritical that Alun Michael is leading this debate when he is the man most responsible for plunging the whole area into economic uncertainty not only through the hunt ban but also through a lot of unwanted reforms, like Common Agricultural Policy changes," complained Mr Bates.

Mr Michael himself countered that it was "complete nonsense" to suggest the Hunting Act threatened the countryside economy as he spoke to the Gazette after his speech.

"The contribution of the hunting community to pest control is small and its contribution to the rural economy is minimal. This was made absolutely clear by the Burns Report," he said.

"The equine people in red coats, their wages can continue with drag hunts and trail hunting. The horse industry is vibrant. It's just they can no longer chase wild animals.

"It's hypocritical of them to selfishly focus on the single economic importance of hunting when you can see people at this conference from every part of rural England want to address the real needs of rural communities which is jobs, health, education, transport, housing, all of these things, not the obsession with one single activity which Parliament has banned.

"I haven't banned it, Parliament banned it by a large majority."

But now Mr Michael is in their sights, the hunting fraternity is not about to leave him alone even if the ban was not entirely his doing.

"We will carry on protesting at every opportunity," pledged Mrs Bolt. "We shall wait for the General Election when we sincerely hope the Labour Government will be kicked out. If not we shall move up a gear.

"They needn't think because they have banned us that we are going to go away and play tiddlywinks. Foxes still need controlling."