A HUNT has denied that fox numbers are deliberately being kept high so that the animals can be hunted illegally.

Hunters have defended themselves against allegations that artificial earths, structures designed for foxes to live in, are being maintained and food is being left for the animals.

The League Against Cruel Sports carried out a national investigation and, acting on information from a local source, one of their officers went to inspect a wood in Dorset.

The officer, who did not want to be named, said: “When I first found the earth all the plants were trampled down and I could smell the foxes.

“I also found a massive pile of offal that had been dumped nearby with clear car tracks leading off to the road.”

He set up a hidden video camera in the wood which captured footage of a man coming and dumping more offal and also showed a fox coming and feeding there.

While the practice of maintaining or setting up artificial earths is not illegal, dumping animal meat in this way would be an offence under the animal by-products regulations due to the high risk of spreading disease.

Animal rights activists believe that the only explanation for this behaviour is that foxes are still being illegally hunted.

Joe Duckworth, the league’s chief executive, said: “Our investigators have shown without a shadow of a doubt that there is a determined effort amongst the hunting community to keep fox numbers artificially high. “The evidence points at a pattern of extreme behaviour which I am convinced may be connected with other wildlife crimes such as hunting with dogs.”

The land in question, situated between Evershot and Cattistock, is owned by the Hon Charlotte Townshend, High Sheriff of Dorset, and one of the richest women in the country.

A spokesman for Ilchester Estates, which manages Mrs Townshend’s land and property in Dorset, said he did not wish to comment on the league’s allegations.

Mrs Townshend is also joint master of local hunting group, the Cattistock Foxhounds, who regularly hunt in these woods.

Will Bryer, master of hounds for the hunt, called the league’s accusations ‘barmy’.

He said: “We refute these allegations.

“They’re ridiculous.

“Artificial earths have been around since the beginning of time but we have no use for them now.

“If someone is putting food out for foxes, it’s not us.

“To me this is just a smear campaign.

“We get this every year at the start of the hunting season.”