A leading animal welfare charity is to use surveillance drones to catch people illegally hunting.
The League Against Cruel Sports will use cameras mounted on remote-controlled aircraft to monitor land previously off-limits. The charity said it was targeting people hunting illegally, hare coursing, badger baiting and other wildlife crimes. The charity is working with non-profit aerial surveillance and monitoring organisation ShadowView to use the drones.
Chief executive Joe Duckworth said: "There is a war in the countryside and whilst there are still individuals determined to flout the law and seek new ways to avoid detection, the League will continue to explore safe, tested and innovative technology to further our charitable aim of ending cruelty to animals in the name of sport."
The charity said the use of drones would support its teams on the ground already gathering intelligence and evidence of illegal activity. It maintained that all its operations were "proportionate, necessary and justified" and were only carried out when there was a "strong possibility of cruel criminality taking place".
Mr Duckworth added: "We are excited to be the first animal welfare charity in Great Britain to be exploring drone technology. We are confident that it will make a fantastic contribution to bringing wildlife criminals to justice."
Tim Bonner, of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, said the League Against Cruel Sports was becoming "increasingly desperate" and was living in "cloud cuckoo land". "We think this is completely impractical and the League Against Cruel Sports has spent the last three years talking about the investment in what it calls 'surveillance'," he said.
"They haven't had a single conviction under the Hunting Act of a hunt as a result of their activities in the last three hunting seasons. We think they are increasingly desperate. The idea that flying a drone over a hunt is suddenly going to lead to convictions is... they are living in cloud cuckoo land.
"The fact is that the law is unworkable and in our view a ridiculous piece of legislation. The chance of multiple prosecutions of hunts are very, very limited."
Mr Bonner said there were also civil liberty questions to answer on drones flying over private property filming. "They are some really quite profound arguments going on about whether a non-governmental organisation should be able to carry out these sort of activities without proper scrutiny," he said.
"There are nearly 300 hunts in the country and between 20,000 to 25,000 individual hunting days each season, and from that you are seeing a tiny number of prosecutions - most of which fail," he added.