England: National Trust pause trail hunting on its land following webinar police probe
The National Trust have said it will pause trail hunting on its land and will not be granting new licences this season.
The news follows a ITV News report that revealed webinars hosted by The Hunting Office, the sport’s governing body, are being examined by police officers in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service to see if any criminal offences have taken place.
In a statement shared by ITV News Wales & West of England Correspondent Rupert Evelyn, the National Trust said: “We have taken the decision to pause trail hunting on National Trust land and will not be granting any new licences for the remainder of the season.”
In a follow up tweet, the charity said: “We do not currently have a date when this decision will be reviewed.”
Forestry England has also moved to suspend trail hunting on its land.
Crown Estates also issued a statement advising it was “aware of the current investigation” and adding: “We do not condone any form of hunting outside of UK law and we are therefore looking into this matter.
“The majority of our rural portfolio is comprised of tenanted, working farmland. While any decision to allow hunting rests with the tenant, it must always take place in full compliance with UK law.
United Utilities is also suspending trail hunting on its land until the investigation is complete, in a statement the company added: “At that point, we will consider what action we should take.”
While Natural Resources Wales also confirmed it was “looking into [the investigation] to see what action, if any, we need to take.”
A police investigation was launched after allegations were made to numerous forces about the contents of online meetings the hunting body held.
The Hunting Office say the seminars “clearly dealt with the operation and promotion of legal trail hunting and managing animal rights activism” but activists argue the seminars, organised to discuss trail hunting, raise questions about the motives of some in the sport.
Trail hunting involves laying a scent similar to that of a fox for hounds to follow.
Hunting groups maintain they follow the letter of the law but, they say, accidents happen.
When dogs follow a fake trail, it frequently leads them to a real fox instead. That is not illegal.
Animal rights activists have a long-held belief that legal exemptions like trail laying offer little protection to foxes and make illegal activities difficult to prove.
What is trail hunting and is it legal?
The police and the Crown Prosecution Service are investigating online seminars hosted by hunting’s governing body, The Hunting Office, ITV News has learned.
Traditional fox hunting – where the animal was chased and killed by dogs – was banned in England and Wales in 2005.
A number of alternative versions of hunting have continued in the wake of the ban, however, and are now the subject of controversy and fierce debate.
So what is the legal situation on the different forms of hunting and who’s who in one of the country’s most fiercely debated issues?
The variations on fox hunting
Following the ban on the chasing and killing of animals, different variations sprung up to allow the activity to still take place in modified, legal forms.
Drag hunting – a sport that existed before the ban – uses foxhounds to search for a scent laid by a drag pulled on a string.
The activity doesn’t involve an animal scent and doesn’t involve the pursuit or killing of wild animals.
Trail hunting uses an animal-based scent for the hunt to follow and is the form many hunts have switched to following the 2005 ban.
Groups on each side of the debate differ as to whether the scent is laid using a material laced with something like urine or whether body parts or carcasses are used.
Following the Hunting Act 2004, banning traditional hunts, the practice of trail hunting has been widely adopted.
Is there an issue with trail hunting?
It really depends who you ask.
The League Against Cruel Sport, an animal protection group that helped bring about the ban, says trail hunting is simply a “smokescreen” for tradition hunting still taking place.
The group says the scent is “laid in areas where foxes or hares are likely to be” resulting in live foxes often being chased and killed.
The League says a “trail layer” – the person who lays out the scent for the hunt to follow – does so without notifying those in control of the hounds, allowing the hunt to claim ignorance if an animal does get killed.
It argues trail hunting still results in “out of control” hounds, “trespassing on private land” and, crucially, the killing of animals.
Hunting groups refute these claims.
The Hunting Office – which “aims to promote and protect the interests and values of hunting and the hunting community” – argues trail hunting is a legal practice that simulates traditional hunting.
The group says the trail hunting allows hunts to “retain their infrastructure as well as their hounds, members and activities”.
On whether animals are killed as they were during traditional hunts, the Hunting Office admits it is “highly likely” foxes will be seen on a trail hunt.
But the group says if the hounds pick up a live scent: “The huntsman and other members of hunt staff stop the hounds as soon as they are made aware that the hounds are no longer following a trail that has been laid.”
The Hunting Office describes critics’ claims about trail hunting as “persistent spurious allegations”.
Is there a solution?
For the critics of hunting, last year saw a series of successful prosecutions against hunts that were found to have broken the law.
Groups are calling for amendments to the Hunting Act to strengthen it, however, to limit potential grey areas that result in animals still being harmed.
The RSPCA, for example, says the law should include a “tighter definition of hunting” that incorporates “searching for”.
It says animal products should be banned when laying trails and that trail hunts should be registered, provide maps of the trails to the police in advance and record instances where foxes have been killed by hounds.
The Hunting Office says groups already “record and keep evidence” on trail laying and insists “files are kept of the day’s activities”.
While the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) – the governing body representing 171 hunting packs in England and Wales and eight in Scotland – says it continues to advise its members on hunting within that law but is campaigning to have it repealed.
All you need to know about fox hunting
Jeremy Hunt has raised the prospect of repealing the ban on fox hunting – following in the footsteps of David Cameron and Theresa May who also supported a vote on the controversial issue.
The Conservative leadership hopeful told the Daily Telegraph the activity was “part of our heritage”.
When asked if he would legalise fox hunting, he said: “I would as soon as there was a majority of Parliament that would be likely to repeal the fox hunting ban then I would support a vote in Parliament.”
Here are some questions about the ban on fox hunting answered:
– What was the Hunting Act and when did it come into force?
The ban on hunting with dogs came into force in England and Wales on February 18 2005, a culmination of years of political wrangling and fighting in fields and woods up and down the land.
The legislation was pushed through by Labour backbenchers in November 2004 and brought about a total ban on hunting with dogs, outlawing fox-hunting, deer-hunting and hare-coursing with dogs.
– What was the reaction?
The Hunting Act was greeted as a victory for animal welfare activists and those who deemed it an outdated hobby of the privileged and rich, while many farmers and countryside communities condemned it as bad for the rural economy, bad for animal welfare and a waste of police resources.
Do hunts still take place?
Around 300 different organisations arrange approximately 15,000 days of hunting each year using hounds trained to follow an artificial scent. Events range from the well-known Beaufort and Quorn hunts to small operations with packs of beagles followed by just three or four people.
– What have previous Prime Ministers made of the ban?
Tony Blair, under whose premiership the ban was introduced, said it was “one of the domestic legislative measures I most regret” in his memoirs, adding his agreement to the legislation was a “rash undertaking”.
David Cameron’s Conservative Party had pledged to give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time, in its manifesto in the 2015 election, but this did not feature in the Queen’s Speech.
Under Theresa May, the Tories had pledged to give MPs a vote on whether to overturn the fox hunting ban, but this was pulled in January 2018.
She said: “As prime minister, my job isn’t just about what I think about something, it’s actually about looking at what the view of the country is.
“I think there was a clear message about that and that’s why I say there won’t be a vote on fox hunting during this parliament.”
WAV comment (Mark) – Now, 2020, with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister; there appears to be no chance of a repeal (overturn) of the Hunting Act of 2004. But saying that; many hunts still undertake the practice and when foxes are (illegally) killed by hunts – they claim it was an accident and the hunting dogs flushed out a fox but dd not stop; going on to kill it.
The policing of hunts has always been an issue since the act was introduced in 2004. Animal welfare / rights organisations have always declared that the hunts are not monitored enough to ensure they comply with the law – literally getting away with murder – whilst the same groups often feel that sab groups are forever monitored and prosecuted by the police whilst they are out obtaining evidence of illegal hunting.
It (hunting) will always be a big confrontational issue in the UK; you are either pro hunt or anti hunt. Fortunately, the vast majority of British people are anti hunt, and will always support actions to protect the fox.