National Trust comes under fire after comparing blood sport to mountain biking Claims made by the National Trust that ‘there is no evidence to suggest trail hunts are any more or less damaging to conservation than pursuits like mountain biking’, have been blown out the water by a new League Against Cruel Sports report. Released today, the report highlights the environmental damage caused by hunts – including disturbing habitats and protected species, blocking up badger setts, spreading animal by-products such as animal urine and leaving contaminated hounds’ faeces in the countryside. The report comes as the second largest landowner in the UK tries to persuade its members to vote against a trail hunting ban on its land in its upcoming AGM. The Trust has offered ‘advice’ to their members, who will soon receive voting papers, and the League believes the Trust are getting ‘desperate’ in their bid to avoid a ban on hunting. Philippa King, acting CEO for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “It must be a very painful time for the National Trust at the moment, as they seem to be perched firmly on one of their own fences. They might be trying to appease all sides but in reality they are revealing that their policy on hunting has been vague and uninformed. Luckily through their supporters they are now able to remedy that. “Comparing mountain biking to hunting is nothing short of absurd and a bit desperate. Unlike hunts, mountain bikers tend not to block badger setts or urinate and defecate all over National Trust land. More importantly, they don’t chase and kill foxes, stags and hares as part of their sport.” The League’s new report, The Conservation Problems of Hunting with Dogs during the Hunting Ban in England and Wales, looks into the conservation impacts of hunting including: habitat disturbance, environmental disturbance and disturbance of protected species including badgers. “The National Trust say there is no evidence to suggest hunting is any more or less damaging to conservation than other activities. But why therefore have they been allowing trail hunting if potentially it is more damaging than other activities? Why do they allow trail hunting if they don’t have the evidence to show it isn’t damaging to the land they claim to be protecting? The questions mount. “The truth is that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that hunting can be extremely damaging to conservation. When you have large numbers of horses, people, dogs and vehicles like quadbikes haring across large areas for several months, there will undoubtedly be habitat damage. The Quantock Staghounds for example regularly chase deer across the Quantock Hills, which is an area of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. “The Trust seem intent on persuading their members to vote against banning hunting on their land. But we believe that NT members will realise that fudging this issue will only lead to hunts continuing to get away with killing animals. If the Trust is worried about hunting on their land – which they clearly are – then they need to be decisive and ban it completely.” A funny smell Since the ban on hunting came into force, hunts have claimed that they go ‘trail hunting’; something the League believes is a false alibi for traditional hunting. Since the Act was enacted in 2005, hunt monitors believe that only an average of around 0.04% of the occasions they may have witnessed a genuine trail hunting event, rather than a fake one. When pushed, hunts usually claim to use fox urine for the trail they follow. The importation, use and disposal of animal by-products is controlled by EU regulations and UK law, of which substances such as fox urine fall into a high risk category. The new report details all the regulations that would be required to import such products from US fur farms, where some hunts claim they get it from – it is therefore likely imports may be illegal as hunts are unlikely to have acquired the appropriate permits. If however hunts claim to have sourced fox urine from the UK, they would have to source this from live foxes held captive, and as such they would become protected animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and require a special licence. Philippa King continued: “When it comes to laying trails of fox urine across National Trust land, something smells bad. Their false alibi for hunting is that they lay trails of fox urine for the hounds to follow. If they have genuinely done this, then where did they get it, is it licensed? Has the environmental impact been evaluated? But if they haven’t been spreading fox urine – which evidence suggests is the reality - then their false alibi has disappeared so they have no excuse to be on National Trust land.” The report identifies four main activities now undertaken by registered hunts that can have negative conservation implications: The use of “trail hunting” as a form of simulated hunting where the hounds are set to follow a trail of an animal-based artificial scent (often fox urine) in areas where wild animals live, without those controlling them knowing where the trail has been laid. The use of “exempt hunting” as an excuse to continue hunting wild mammals, pretending to be controlling wildlife, doing research or rescuing animals, thereby abusing several of the exemptions of the Schedule of the Hunting Act 2004 for which they were not created. Claiming to be “exercising their hounds” in areas far away from their kennels in pre-arranged meetings where hunt supporters turn out as they always have done to observe actual hunting. Illegally hunting either blatantly or under the cover of the other activities mentioned above. The report also shows, with particular examples, that these activities are causing the following disturbances that can have negative implications for conservation: Disturbance to habitats by packs of hounds on the loose, riders or vehicles entering protected areas and potentially doing physical damage to the vegetation, soil or wildlife. Disturbance to animals belonging to protected or endangered species, or otherwise, by interfering with their shelters, disturbing their natural activities, injuring them or even killing them. Disturbance to the environment by spreading contaminated dog faeces all over the countryside, and potentially biologically polluting the environment by spreading animal by-products such as fox urine (which is what hunts claim they use for “trail hunting”) that may be unsafe or illegally imported or produced. Disturbance to historical sites by potentially damaging soil or structures when trespassing. - Ends - Please contact the League’s Press Office on 01483 524250 (24hrs) or email [email protected] for any image, comment or interview requests The League Against Cruel Sports is Britain's leading charity that works to stop animals being persecuted, abused and killed for sport. The League was instrumental in helping bring about the landmark Hunting Act. We carry out investigations to expose law-breaking and cruelty to animals and campaign for stronger animal protection laws and penalties. We work to change attitudes and behaviour through education and manage sanctuaries to protect wildlife. Registered charity in England and Wales (no.1095234) and Scotland (no.SC045533).