PUBLIC outrage directed at illegal fox hunting is on the rise, say campaigners.

Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), made the comments following recent reports of fox hunting in Oxfordshire.

Several residents of Kirtlington, near Bicester, contacted Thames Valley Police in January to report that a hunt was taking place in the village.

The campaigning group has claimed that such incidents remain commonplace despite the Hunting Act, which bans the hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales, coming into effect in 2004.

Mr Luffingham insisted that the act needs to be strengthened in order to deter those taking advantage of its weaknesses.

He said: “Public awareness of illegal hunting is growing and people are becoming increasingly angry about the number of incidents taking place.

“Regular reports of illegal hunting come in from our investigators and our Animal Crimewatch line receives numerous calls from people who have been distressed by seeing a hunt chasing a fox or deer, and from those who have encountered hunts trespassing on their land.

“The majority of people in Great Britain support the ban on hunting. "They are wising up to the deceit of ‘trail’ hunting and asking why more is not being done to stop people making a mockery of the law.”

Three members of the public contacted Thames Valley Police on January 16 to report that a hunt was taking place in Kirtlington.

One of the callers said that at about 11.45am a fox had been chased onto Bletchingdon Road by a group of hunters.

They alleged that the animal had been hit by a car and was then attacked and killed by a group of dogs.

Some of the land the hunt were accessing that day for hunting is reported to be Kirtlington Park.

Police investigated under the Hunting Act and the case has since been filed, pending further evidence.

Similar activity has taken place in the village before, the Oxford Mail understands.

Trail hunting is a form of legal hunting that involves laying an artificial scent for hounds to follow.

The practice is controversial as many, including LACS, believe it to be a veil for illegal hunting activity.

Mr Luffingham said: “Trail hunting results in wildlife being chased and killed and instead of animals being properly protected by hunting legislation, loopholes mean they continue to be persecuted.

“The Hunting Act needs strengthening and the persistent minority who take pleasure in killing animals for fun need to be stopped once and for all.

“We need to send a clear message that in the 21st century, having animals literally torn apart by packs of hounds in the name of ‘sport’ will no longer be tolerated.”

Trail hunting did not exist prior to the Hunting Act and since it was passed a large number of hunts have announced the adoption of trail hunting.

It is not to be confused with drag hunting, a similar practice in which groups lay non-animal based scents. Drag hunting, however, has been conducted for centuries.

When the Act came into force, the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association (MDBA) were concerned that illegal live quarry hunting, under the guise of following an artificially laid scent, would have a detrimental effect on the sport of drag hunting.

To prevent their sport being brought into disrepute, the MDBA insisted that the term ‘drag hunting’ should remain its exclusive property.

In 2012, members of Oxfordshire’s Heythrop Hunt were convicted of illegal fox hunting in the first prosecution mounted by the RSPCA.

The hunt admitted what the prosecutor said was ‘deliberate unlawful hunting’.