The National Trust will ban all trail hunting from its land, the charity’s board of trustees has announced.
The Trust Thursday became the first major landowner in England to outlaw hunts after their members voted in favour of the move at the annual general meeting last month.
But last night hunt supporters accused the charity of betraying its motto “for everyone, for ever” by banning a legal activity.
The vote by members was not legally binding but it was confirmed by the charity who said that there had been a “loss of trust and confidence” in the sport’s governing body and a “reputational risk” in the activity continuing.
The vote came after the conviction of Master of Foxhounds Association director Mark Hankinson, who was found guilty of encouraging huntsmen to use legal trail hunting as “a sham and a fiction” for the unlawful chasing and killing of animals.
The Trust announced the ban on the same day that Hankinson launched an appeal against his conviction, with judges to hear his case in May. The footage of the invitation-only webinars which led to his conviction was “illegally obtained” by animal rights activists who had hacked into the emails of a hunt master.
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.”
In recent years only one hunt had used the charity’s land, adding to fears that the charity is being used to make a political argument.
Trail hunting has been suspended on Trust land since November 2020 following a police investigation into the webinars.
National Trust members voted by 76,816 to 38,184 in favour of banning trail hunting on its land at the charity’s AGM last month. Those who proposed the motion claimed that “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 but trail hunting is exempt from the ban.
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.
A spokesman from the Hunting Office said that the decision was “hugely disappointing, considering 98% of the Trust members did not participate in the vote to ban trail hunting at the AGM earlier this year”.
They added: “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.”
Celebrating the decision, a spokesman for the Hunt Saboteurs Association claimed that they “expect to see some hunts fold completely and others face an increasingly difficult future as they struggle for land” and said that their “next target will be the Ministry of Defence”.