ANIMAL rights campaigners are convinced illegal hunting is taking place in the Lake District and are planning a crackdown.

The League Against Cruel Sports has invested £1 million to fund investigators and equipment in a bid to catch hunters in the act over the next four years.

It follows a police announcement this week that officers would patrol Blencathra and Melbreak after reports of trouble between hunt monitors and followers.

The League believes that hunts are flouting the ban and are becoming “more lawless than ever.”

Since the Hunting Act was introduced in 2004 there have been only two prosecutions in Cumbria.

But Clive Richardson, of the Vale of Lune Harriers, said the fact only two people had been charged with illegal hunting in the county proved there was not a problem in the Lake District.

“We are law abiding people so we should be congratulated for staying within the law,” he said.

“Had there been a wholesale disregard there would have been a lot of prosections but there hasn’t been.

“We obviously hope there will be a repeal of the act, and then the police can go back to dealing with other crime.”

But Louise Robertson, a spokesperson for the League, said the group had heard examples of foxes being killed by ‘accident’ by illegal hunt groups in the county.

“There seems to be a determined minority prepared to push the limits of the law,” she said.

“There are good laws in place to prevent people harming animals for sport and we want to make sure they are enforced.

"Ultimately we want to stop animals suffering.

“To any hunts that think they are above the law, we will be out there stronger than ever, keeping an eye on what they’re doing.”

Ms Robertson added that the £1million invested across the country would also be used to stop other wildlife crime such as deer poaching, as well as illegal hunting.

“This is the seventh hunting season under the ban, but all the evidence suggests that hunts are getting more lawless than ever,” said Joe Duckworth, the League’s chief executive.

“Appointing investigation officers around the country will enable us to increase our efforts in gathering evidence for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.”

Adverts carrying the Hunt Crimewatch numbers are appearing in regional newspapers from today.