THE hunting community has been hit with a double loss of country as the National Trust and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) have been “bullied into” banning trail-hunting on their land.
The trust announced on 25 November that it would issue no more licences to hunts, following a members’ vote at its AGM on 30 October. The news came a week after the NRW board decided not to renew its agreement with the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA).
A spokesman for the Old Berks hunt, which has previously covered National Trust land, told H&H: ‘Trail-hunting is a legal activity which is enjoyed by tens of thousands of people and it is hugely disappointing for the Old Berks hunt that the National Trust has decided not to issue licences for a legal and legitimate activity, enjoyed by many in the rural community.
“The Old Berks hunt, as verified by the National Trust monitors, has always carried out their trail-hunting on National Trust land within the terms of the licence, and has operated within the confines of the Hunting Act of 2004 since it came into force. Furthermore, in the accompanying literature for the AGM motion, the board of the National Trust confirmed that trail-hunting is perfectly legal, that the National Trust already had a successful system in place which monitored licensed trail-hunting activities and that they were satisfied hunts complied with requirements.
“The National Trust is a multi-million-pound national charity and is inexplicably hiding behind the excuse that they ‘expend considerable resources needed to facilitate trail-hunting’ and ‘the reputational risk of this activity continuing on their land’ as reasons for suspending the licensing, after only 2% of their membership voted on the motion. The Old Berks hunt believe that this is ‘the thin end of the wedge’ and opens the flood gates for other single-issue campaigns, engineered by extremist groups, to hijack National Trust decisions. We will continue our dialogue with the National Trust and remind them that their decision to prevent a lawful and legitimate activity, enjoyed by thousands of people nationwide, goes completely against their core mantra ‘For everyone, for ever’.”
Countryside Alliance CEO Tim Bonner said the Trust decision, based on a vote involving less than 2% of its membership, “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 its board approves of,” he said. “The inability of trustees to differentiate between 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.”
The Alliance said it is ready to work with the Trust “to ensure that everyone can have confidence that all hunting activity is open, transparent and legitimate”.
The charity said no hunting licences for its land have been issued since last autumn owing to the leaked webinars on trail-hunting, and this October’s conviction of MFHA director Mark Hankinson.
The Trust’s Harry Bowell said the board of trustees “carefully considered this issue”.
“Its decision is based on a wide range of considerations. These include, but are not limited to, a loss of trust and confidence in the MFHA, the vote by members, the considerable resources needed to facilitate trail hunting and the reputational risk of this activity continuing on our land.”
H&H columnist and MFH Andrew Sallis said the decision followed a “tidal wave of social media pressure”.
“I wouldn’t say it’s public opinion as it was only 2% of the members, so you can’t say it’s reflective of the membership either,” he told H&H. “It’s a shame the Trust hasn’t adhered to the will of its benefactors of land, who were in the main very much supporters of hunting, in whatever guise that legal hunting was at the time.
“It’s a very curious decision for an organisation that considers itself progressive to ban a legal activity.”
A Hunting Office spokesman told H&H the decisions “go against the fundamental principle of allowing access to land for all people doing legitimate and legal activities”.
“Hunts have carried out well over 250,000 days’ lawful trail hunting in the last 16 years since the hunting act came into force,” the spokesman said. “Trail hunting is enjoyed by tens of thousands of people across the country; it is, and will continue to be, a huge part of the rural community and a lawful and legitimate activity.
“These institutions have been bombarded by computer-generated email campaigns, social media propaganda and relentless pressure from anti-trail hunting groups and animal rights extremists, and have been bullied into stopping a lawful activity from taking place on their land.”
Alliance director for Wales Rachel Evans said the organisation is “bitterly disappointed that NRW has undertaken an internal review, behind closed doors and has not fully engaged with users”.
“We feel strongly that those who trail-hunt have been unfairly dismissed from being able to access public land and have been short-changed by NRW. There has certainly been a lack of transparency in their process, which has only come to light via an online agenda published days before the meeting. The impact is far greater and goes much wider than the hunts affected, including the impact that this sort of action has on culture, the Welsh language and communities across Wales. Our campaign here isn’t over and there will undoubtedly be further work to undertake across Wales.”
NRW head of land stewardship Dominic Driver said the board had “carefully considered” the MFHA court case and its own role before the decision, which was “held in public session”.
“The outcome of the court case has resulted in a loss of confidence in the [MFHA’s] ability to ensure its activities are carried out within the law and terms of its agreement,” he said.
“To assure ourselves that trail-hunting on our estate wasn’t being used as a cover for illegal activity, we would have to invest in skills and resources we don’t have to police it properly. Given what has historically been a minor use of the land we manage, this does not represent good use of our limited resources.
“As all trail-hunting was managed under the same agreement, all trail-hunting activity on the NRW-managed estate will end with immediate effect.”
Drag-hunting will still be allowed on National Trust land.
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