A NATIONAL anti-hunting body has joined the increasingly heated debate over the re-introduction of grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor.

The League Against Cruel Sports has claimed that shooting would effectively deny walkers access to parts of the moor.

It is running an online poll over the issue, which has so far seen 73 of the 99 votes cast oppose grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor.

Meanwhile, more than 80 per cent of the votes cast in the Ilkley Gazette's own internet poll on the contentious issue were against a ban on grouse shooting.

The League Against Cruel Sports' shooting campaigner, Cerys Roberts, said: "Ilkley Moor was gifted to the public in 1893 for the public pleasure - there is no reason why this right should be sold off to the highest bidder and local people denied access to their land whilst gangs of shooters kill birds for fun."

The debate has brought out strong feelings locally and further afield, both from people who argue grouse shooting is cruel, and those who feel it is necessary to pay for vital for the future care of the fire-damaged moor A total of 297 votes were cast in the Gazette's online poll on the issue. Of these, 244 were against a ban on grouse shooting on the moor.

Bradford Council's decision to invite companies to tender for a ten-year lease to hold shoots on Ilkley Moor has already been criticised by two other animal welfare organisations. National animal rights group Animal Aid condemned the move as a huge step backwards'.

The Ilkley-based West Yorkshire Animals in Need, is petitioning Bradford Council to ban grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor. It plans to present its petition to the council in June.

Shooting ceased on the moor more than ten years ago, when Bradford Council decided not to renew the lease for shooting.

A lease was issued in recent years, but no shooting took place because it was feared the disease-hit grouse population could dwindle.