The Countryside Alliance welcomed a High Court ruling on the definition of hunting which it says will make it more difficult to successfully prosecute huntsmen under the Government's hunt ban.

Tim Bonner, spokesman for the Alliance, described the ruling as "very positive".

He said two judges had ruled that "hunting" a wild mammal under the 2004 Hunting Act, which introduced the ban, did not include "searching for" an animal in order to stalk it or flush it out.

He said the judges had also said it was for the prosecution to prove that defendants were not covered by exemptions to the ban - and not for defendants to show they were exempt.

Mr Bonner added: "The court has also confirmed, in relation to basic evidence of hunting, that it has to be 'intentional' - there cannot be 'accidental' hunting.

He said of the ruling: "It is very positive. We have won on everything essentially.

"This should mean the prospect of Hunting Act offences being prosecuted will be far lower in many cases.

"We would expect there to have to be overwhelming evidence (of illegal hunting) for a prosecution even to be launched."

The ruling, handed down by Sir Anthony May, president of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, and Mr Justice Maddison has been keenly awaited by both pro and anti-hunt campaigners.