Some pastimes are "hare" today, gone tomorrow, but the Airedale Beagles are going from strength to strength despite the hunting ban.

Located at Crag Top Farm, near the summit of Silsden Moor, known locally as The Nab, the pack of 45 beagles is as fit and healthy as ever.

For more than a century, the Airedale Beagles hunted hares across the beautiful moorland and Dales countryside - until the 2004 Hunting Act banned most hunting with dogs.

Now the pack, which was formed in 1891, goes out twice a week, following scent trails and hunting rabbits, which is still legal.

Airedale Beagles' joint master and huntsman Martin Spilsbury said: "On the positive side very little else has changed. The number of subscribers has gone up slightly this season."

He added: "Hunting, whether you like it or not, is a part of the rural tradition and heritage of England and Wales."

He said hunting had always been part of land management and, by working with farmers and landowners, they helped to keep a healthy hare population.

"Hounds always chase the weaker animal," he explained.

On rare occasions the beagles are called out, following a shoot, to look for wounded hares which they are permitted to do under the law. Mr Spilsbury said it was fascinating watching the hounds work, using scent rather than sight. This is different to hare coursing, where the hounds hunt entirely by sight. Airedale Beagles kennel huntsman Malcolm Hawker knows each of the dogs at a glance and can tell you its parentage.

He rises at the crack of dawn, or earlier, to start working with the hounds at 4.30am. Mr Hawker said: "We don't do this job for the financial benefits. We do it for the love of it. We are proud of the job. I am an Airedale lad and it means a lot to me."

The current season, which started in September, will draw to a close at the end of next month or early March. Mr Hawker said: "We finish two or three weeks earlier than most because we are in sheep country and it is getting towards lambing time."

The Airedale Beagles hunt each Thursday and Saturday and its area stretches from Trawden in the south-west to Horton-in-Ribblesdale in the north and Otley in the east. On a hunting day the hounds are not fed in the morning to keep them keen.

The dogs are chosen, go out and return at around 5pm, when they are fed and have any cuts and abrasions seen too.

The hounds can easily cover ten miles in a day and possibly around 20 miles, depending on the ground conditions.

In the off-season during spring, they are just taken for small walks and visit local shows and fairs. The Airedale Beagles annual puppy show is held in July.

As the hunting season approaches the exercise is stepped up to get the hounds in shape and once hunting starts less exercise is needed as the hounds get plenty during the hunts.

The weather is another important factor and the recent fog prevented several gatherings.

And farmers or landowners can also call off meetings if the ground is too wet as the dogs can damage the terrain.

The Airedale Beagles have been kennelled at Crag Top Farm since 1983.

They were previously based at Eldwick but moved because of the close proximity of houses.

Anyone interested in beagle hunts can get in touch with the Airedale Beagles at