The National Trust will ban all trail hunting from its land, the charity’s board of trustees has announced.
The move comes after members voted in favour of the ending all hunting and hound exercising at the charity’s annual general meetinglast month and makes the Trust the first major land owner in England to ban the legal activity.
The landslide vote, which was not legally binding but has now been passed by the trustees, came after a senior huntsman was convicted of telling people to use the sport as a “smokescreen” for illegal fox hunting.
Trail hunting has been suspended on Trust land since November 2020 following a police investigation into the webinars.
Mark Hankinson, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA), was in October found guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court of intentionally encouraging huntsmen to use legal trail hunting as “a sham and a fiction” for the unlawful chasing and killing of animals during the webinars.
Following the conviction, National Trust members at the charity’s AGM voted by 76,816 to 38,184 in favour of banning trail hunting on its land.
Those who proposed the motion on the ban stated “overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that ‘trail hunting’ is a cover for hunting with dogs”.
Hunting wild mammals with dogs was banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act of 2004.
Trail hunting replicates a traditional hunt without a fox actually being chased, injured or killed, and although there is always a danger that hounds will accidentally come across the scent of a fox, they should then be stopped to avoid this becoming a criminal offence.
Following the National Trust’s AGM in 2017, when a previous bid to ban trail hunting was narrowly voted down, the charity introduced a dedicated management team to oversee the licensing process and monitored activity against the terms of the new licences.
The Trust said it had seen both compliant and legitimate activity since then, but also multiple reported breaches.
IT has issued licences for trail hunting since hunting with dogs was made illegal in 2005.
It issued 28 in 2018, 14 licences in 2019 and one licence in 2020 before pausing all hunting as a criminal investigation into the Hunting Office training webinars which led to Hankinson’s conviction.
Harry Bowell, National Trust director of land and nature, said: “The board of trustees has carefully considered this issue.
“Its decision to issue no further licences for trail hunting is based on a wide range of considerations.
“These include – but are not limited to – a loss of trust and confidence in the MFHA, which governs trail hunting, the vote by National Trust members at our recent AGM, the considerable resources needed to facilitate trail hunting, and the reputational risk of this activity continuing on our land.”
The National Trust, an organisation with nearly six million members, looks after hundreds of thousands of acres of countryside across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The move to ban trail hunting applies to land in England and Wales. No hunting is allowed on Northern Irish trust land.
Last week, Welsh Government nature agency Natural Resources Wales, which looks after swathes of countryside and forests, banned trail hunting on its land.
Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance said: “The National Trust’s decision breaks a fundamental principle. The charity claims to be “for everyone, for ever”, but by prohibiting a legal activity it has decided it is actually just for those who its board approves of.
“The inability of trustees to differentiate between the legal use of hounds and the governance of hunting is extremely regrettable and breaks the basic principle of access to National Trust land for legitimate activities.”