In England there have been violent confrontations between hunters and hunt saboteurs including an assault recently that left a huntsman with concussion and broken teeth.

Mike Lane - joint master of Tedworth Hunt - was attacked by a masked sab with an iron bar which prompted the Countryside Alliance to call for a ban on balaclavas.

Tim Bonner, Countryside Alliance's director of campaigns, said: "Unfortunately this was not an isolated incident. There have been a number of attacks carried out by hunt saboteurs wearing combat style clothing with their faces covered by balaclavas or masks. Most of the perpetrators are never identified. The police do have powers to order the removal of face coverings, but they are not straightforward. Because the process is complicated we believe that all police forces should be prepared to deploy these powers when animal rights extremists appear in their areas."

However, the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) said hunts often employ heavies who also mask up and are violent. HSA said that last month Dorset Hunt Saboteurs attended a meet of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt, Dorset, and from the start of the day saboteurs were harassed by masked hunt supporters who pushed and shoved and threatened violence.

HSA said: "As the day wore on the size of the group of thugs increased to approx 30-40. At around 3pm they used their quad bikes to block in a sab landrover before launching an unprovoked attack. They smashed the front, rear and driver's side windows, throttled the driver and smashed up equipment inside the vehicle."

This followed another incident at Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt when a female sab was seriously injured last August after being trampled and it emerged last week that a decision not to prosecute the rider is to be reviewed.

The incident left the woman with seven broken ribs and a collapsed lung. A huntsman was arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) did not bring charges. The CPS is now re-examining the case under the Victims' Right to Review Case.

With the general election looming, fox hunting is also back on the political agenda after Prime Minister David Cameron promised a fresh vote on repealing the hunting ban. Writing in Countryside Alliance magazine, Cameron said: "The Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare." Scotland passed its own legislation in 2002.