The Dartmoor National Park Authority had an unusual postal delivery last week when more than 10,000 postcards were handed in at the Haytor National Park Visitor Centre by a person in a fox costume.

The good natured stunt was part of a campaign by the animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports, intended to highlight the practice of trail hunting, a legal activity the charity claims is being used as a cover for fox hunting.

Although fox hunting has been banned in England and Wales since 2005, the activity has effectively been replaced by trail hunts, which involve the laying of a scent trail for dogs to follow without having to kill a fox.

However, trail hunts have come under fire from animal rights campaigners who claim they are a smokescreen for actual hunts - the postcards, which were signed by the public, stated that trail hunting “is a myth invented by the hunts so they can carry on hunting foxes”.

According to a January report by the Protect the Wild association, 46 per cent of registered ‘trail hunts’ were caught chasing or killing foxes in the 2022-2023 season, adding that hunting practices were exploiting loopholes in legislation.

The League said it had also compiled reports showing “hundreds of eyewitness sightings of suspected illegal fox hunting every year”, some of which take place in national parks.

According to the League, Dartmoor and Exmoor, along with the Peak District, are the last three national park authorities in England and Wales which still allow trail hunts on their land.

John Petrie, the League’s senior campaigns manager, said: “It’s time for change and for Dartmoor and Exmoor national park authorities to protect wildlife and preserve nature by banning fox and trail hunting on their land.

“We need fox hunting laws to be strengthened by the next government so that fox hunts can no longer chase and kill animals, something sadly going on despite the fox hunting ban.

“In the meantime, national parks and landowners need to deny the hunts access to their land so that the cruel and senseless killing of foxes is ended once and for all.”

Chief Supt Matt Longman, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on fox hunting and the most senior officer in England with responsibility for fox hunting crime, last year described trail hunts as a “smokescreen” for the banned activity, adding that the Hunting Act “is not working effectively”.

He said the Act had posed “a significant challenge for policing” because it meant police officers were often “caught in the middle” between those who oppose hunting and those who support it.

Last year, about 100 vets wrote to ministers warning that a scientific review was needed on fox numbers amid concerns that red foxes could be disappearing in some rural areas since the ban was introduced.

According to the vets, this is because landowners have been resorting to shooting some of the fittest animals and vixens with cubs, “contrary to good conservation practice”.