Hunting on National Trust land

Many people have been shocked to learn that illegal hunting is taking place on National Trust land.

Although the National Trust does not directly license illegal hunting, it does offer licences for ‘trail hunting’, a form of hunting with hounds that was invented after the passing of the Hunting Act 2004, which the League believes to be a cover for illegal hunting.

Read the list of incidents of trespass and licences breaches on National Trust land

The UK’s third largest membership organisation and second largest land owner currently issues licences to a number of hunts (79 were issued in 2016) on some of its estates. These licences are generally for ‘trail hunting’, which the Trust says contain conditions designed to protect fauna and flora. However, it would seem the National Trust do not take any enforcement action for breaches of licence conditions unless there has been a police investigation and a conviction.

The League believes the evidence clearly shows that hunting activities on National Trust land are cruel, illegal, unauthorised and dangerous to the public, as well as damaging to Sites of Scientific Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.


Why have the National Trust licensed hunting?

Hunting wild animals like deer, hares and foxes with dogs for sport is illegal under the terms of the Hunting Act 2004, except where an exemption applies. When the ban came in, hunts created the activity of ‘trail hunting’, which they claimed involved following a scent-based trail (for example fox urine).

Evidence suggests that trail hunting (not to be confused with drag hunting) is not a genuine sport, but in fact a cover for illegal hunting. Our analysis was done looking at over 4,000 hunt monitoring reports from different organisations (covering the majority of hunts in England and Wales). We’ve found that since 2005, only on an average of around 0.04% of occasions did monitors believe they may have witnessed a genuine trail hunting event, rather than a fake one.

We therefore believe that illegal hunting is taking place on National Trust land on regular basis.


Other ways hunts kill animals on National Trust land

Trail hunting is not the only excuse that hunts use to access National Trust land. Other ways include:


'Exempt stag hunting'

Hunts can claim various ‘exemption’ excuses that the law allows as their purpose for being on National Trust land – and it’s stags that are feeling the effects the most. The defiant attitude of stag hunts combined with the existence of weak exemptions in the Hunting Act 2004 has created an effective loophole which desperately needs closing. Too many opportunities to falsely claim an exempt hunt is undoubtedly causing suffering to hundreds of deer every year.

Published in 2017, ‘Observed’ to death is the first ever report to look at how stag hunts are breaking the law, 12 years after the hunting ban was enacted. League investigators regularly witness stags being chased on National Trust land adjacent to the charity’s wildlife sanctuary in Somerset.


‘Exercising the hounds'

Citing that hounds need exercise, hunts often let full packs of hounds loose in the countryside which can cause all kinds of disturbance to the local wildlife as well as damage to natural ecosystems. The League regularly receives reports of unsupervised hounds entering protected natural reserves – endangering the habitats of foxes, hares and other animals. We’ve also received reports of hunts interfering with badger setts - which is illegal because badgers are a protected species.

Two reports were published in 2017 highlighting the negative impacts hunting with dogs has on conservation. The conservation problems of hunting with dogs was published by the League, and The impact of hunting with dogs on wildlife and conservation by Prof. Stephen Harris.


Unopposed trespassing

The Quantock Hills in Somerset is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), with parts owned and managed by the National Trust. The Quantock Staghounds Hunt, like all the other stag hunts, was banned from hunting with dogs on National Trust land in 1997, so is not permitted to carry out actual stag hunting on its land.

The League Against Cruel Sports has evidence that the Quantock Staghounds Hunt has repeatedly engaged in stag hunting, trespassing onto National Trust land without a licence, driving hunt quad bikes and other vehicles on a restricted byway and footpaths used regularly by the public (including children) and across protected moorland, and has discharged firearms to kill deer on National Trust land, which is open to the public.

On one occasion, a National Trust vehicle passed along a restricted byway as hunt vehicles were being driven illegally in the opposite direction but there was no intervention. The evidence shows that National Trust estate staff may be aware of what is going on but take no action to stop it.

Hunt supporters vehicles in National Trust land


National Trust AGM

In 2017 a group of National Trust members, supported by the League, submitted a motion calling for the ‘cessation of trail hunting, exempt hunting and exercising of hounds’. Over 61,000 members voted on the motion.  The number of people voting against the motion to ban Trail hunting was 30,985. Those for the motion was 30,686. This means that the motion failed by 299 votes. It is worth noting that the National Trust was given discretionary votes by some members, meaning that those votes were used by the National Trust to vote against the motion. Without those discretionary votes, the number of people who voted for the motion was greater than those who voted against. So the decision was swung against the motion by the National Trust board.

The Debate was streamed live online and is available to watch here.

Supporters outside the National Trust AGM


What Now?

Since 2017, the National Trust has updated its rules on ‘Trail Hunting’. While the League does not believe these rules are strong enough to prevent illegal hunting from taking place, we are still keen to see them properly enforced, and to know how the National Trust plans to deal with Hunts that trespass without a licence.

Listed below are the reported incidents of hunts trespassing onto National Trust land during the 2017/18 hunting season

So far, the Trust has failed to give a satisfactory answer as to how they will prevent this from taking place, and what the repercussions of these offences will be.


What else can I do?

Whether you’re a member or not, there’s still plenty you can do:

  • Share this page with your family and friends – spread the word!
  • Write a letter/email to your local paper(s) – you’ll find their contact details easily online. The letter doesn’t need to be long, but if you can include these key points:
    • National Trust members weren’t given all the facts
    • The motion wasn’t to ban non-lethal ‘drag’ hunting. It was to ban ‘trail’ hunting which is actually real hunting in disguise
    • The National Trust need to step up and ensure legal hunting doesn’t happen on their land
  • Do you live near a National Trust property? Have you seen a hunt take place? They may be in breach of the National Trust licence, or even trespassing. If you suspect any illegal activity, please report it to our Crimewatch team


Your actions can stop hunting being allowed on National Trust land.