supporters turned out in force at the first meets conducted under the shadow of the hunt ban.

An estimated crowd of 3,000 at the North Cotswold's meet in Broadway on Saturday heard messages of defiance from hunt masters and Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff.

Meanwhile, the Croome and West Warwickshire attracted about 1,000 people to its meet at Croome Court, near Defford, and up to 3,000 supporters saw Chipping Norton's Heythrop Hunt gallop off.

Anti-hunt activists say that they had a quiet presence at all the meets in the area and that they would continue to monitor the activities of hunts.

Police forces have also vowed to keep a close eye on hunts and are urging members of the public to report any law breaking.

Peter Luff described the implementation of the ban as "a sad day for human freedom and real animal welfare".

He said: "I hope everyone here obeys the law - but I also hope that they test it and prove it to be unworkable."

Ron Sinclair from Evesham, a committee member of the North Cotswold Hunt, said: "We intend to operate within the law and look forward to the day when the law is eased or changed."

John Robbins from Weston Subedge said he had followed the hunt for 60 years. "My wish to hunt with my grandchildren, as I hunted with my grandfather, has been put on hold by the bigotry of the few."

Cotswold farmer Gill Purser, spokeswoman for the Cotswold Support Group for the Abolition of Hunting, said two members "quietly" monitored each hunt in the area. She added that leaflets were being distributed among residents who have expressed opposition to hunting advising them how to spot illegal hunting.

Chief Inspector David Peake of Gloucestershire Constabulary said: "Illegal hunting will be treated as a wildlife crime and we will enforce the new law. We encourage people to contact the police if they see an illegal hunt taking place. However, it is imperative that people do not jump to conclusions. Wearing scarlet jackets and exercising hounds is not illegal, neither is trail hunting. If people see hounds and people on horseback, it does not necessarily mean it's illegal."

He added that a policy for policing hunts had now been formulated. "Our job is to enforce the law and that is what we will do with this new piece of legislation."

West Mercia communications manager for the force, Jon Clarke said: "If people abide by the legislation there will be no problem. If they don't we will react appropriately. We have a duty to protect public safety and order."