National Trust bans trail hunting on its land amid illegal foxhunt concerns

The Guardian - Thu Nov 25 16:01

The National Trust has banned trail hunting on its land, almost a year after temporarily suspending such activity amid concern from critics that the practice serves as a smokescreen for illegal foxhunting.

In a landslide vote at its annual meeting in October, the trust – one of the UK’s largest landowners – voted overwhelmingly to ask the trustees to ban this form of hunting, which was devised after the Hunting Act banned the hunting of foxes with dogs.

In trail hunting, a “trail layer” goes out ahead of the hunt, dragging a rag coated in an animal scent. Huntsmen cast the hounds to this scent, and follow it to the end of the trail. Critics argue that it is routinely used as a cover for old-fashioned illegal hunting.

It comes after one of the biggest landowners in Wales, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), similarly banned the practice. The land the government-sponsored body owns accounts for about 7% of Wales’ countryside and forests.

The National Trust’s decision was welcomed by League Against Cruel Sports, an animal rights charity. However, the organisation said it was concerned it did not go far enough and would not become permanent, and that without a full and explicit ban, foxhunting could still take place.

Chris Luffingham, the charity’s director of campaigns, said: “Their members’ voices could not have been louder, sending a clear message to the board of trustees that enough is enough and trail hunting should be banned on trust land.

“The board has recognised the strength of feeling in its membership and the public in general, who are more aware than ever that so-called trail hunting is used as an excuse – a smokescreen – for illegal hunting. However, the recent Hankinson verdict has shown that the hunting community cannot be trusted from the top down, and not having a definitive ban could lead to foxes being chased and killed by hunts.”

Mark Hankinson, the former director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, was found guilty of encouraging or assisting others to break the Hunting Act 2004, under the Serious Crimes Act 2007. He had been talking to more than 100 other huntsmen on a series of training webinars about how to use trail hunting as a smokescreen.

The NRW said in a statement: “The outcome of the court case against a senior leader of the MFHA has resulted in a loss of confidence in the organisation’s ability to ensure its activities are carried out within the law and terms of its agreement.”

The league is lobbying other major landowners such as Forestry England, United Utilities, the Church of England, Crown Estates, the Duchy of Cornwall, local authorities, the national parks authorities, and the Ministry of Defence to follow the National Trust and Natural Resources Wales in banning trail hunting.