Trustees announced today the charity will no longer issue licences for the practice which sees hounds follow an animal scent dragged along a trail. Critics have long argued that it is used as a cover for illegal hunting.
The legal activity has been suspended on the Trust’s land since November 2020 after police investigated webinars involving huntspeople discussing the pursuit.
Mark Hankinson, a former director of the Masters of the Fox Hounds Association (MFHA), was found guilty in October of encouraging the use of legal trail hunting as a “screen” to carry out the unlawful chasing and killing of animals. Mr Hankinson has appealed against the conviction.
At the charity’s annual general meeting last month, members voted 76,816 to 38,184 in favour of banning trail hunting on Trust land.
Harry Bowell, the charity’s 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 MFHA governs registered packs of foxhounds and represents 170 packs.
After a National Trust meeting in 2017, the charity introduced a dedicated trail hunting management team which oversaw the licensing process and monitored the activity against the terms of new licences.
Since then, it says it has seen multiple reported breaches as well as hunts deemed to comply with the rules. Hunting wild mammals with dogs was banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act of 2004.
The League Against Cruel Sports states that there is “overwhelming” evidence bans on fox hunting in England, Wales and Scotland are regularly ignored or exploited.
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It has cautiously welcomed the Trust’s move, but voiced concern it has not gone far enough, arguing it remains unclear whether it has banned exempt hunting activities which could still potentially lead to animals being chased and killed.
Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns, said: “[National Trust] 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.”
He said: “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.”
The Trust’s move follows an announcement by Natural Resources Wales that it will no longer allow trail hunting on its land.
Other major landowners including Forestry England, United Utilities, the Church of England, Crown Estates, Duchy of Cornwall and the Ministry of Defence continue to be lobbied by the League to ban trail hunting.
Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, criticised the Trust’s decision, telling MailOnline: “The 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.”
A spokesman from The Hunting Office, which is responsible for administering hunting, described the Trust’s decision as hugely disappointing considering 98 percent of the conservation charity’s members did not take part in a vote to ban trail hunting at an AGM earlier this year.
He claimed: “The board’s decision to prevent a lawful and legitimate activity comes as a result of an engineered campaign by opponents of trail hunting to bully landowners into stopping a lawful activity carried out by the rural community.
“Hunts have had access to National Trust land for generations and the decision goes completely against the core mantra of the National Trust ‘for everyone, for ever’.
“We hope that we can maintain an open dialogue with the Trust and have further consultation following the review which we are currently conducting.”
The Trust says there may still be ceremonial meets not involving trail hunting activity on its land with groups involved in the pursuit not requiring licences if they stick to bridleways, footpaths or other public rights of way.