Hunting, trespass and the National Trust

It's not the position I hoped we'd be in at last year's AGM where I voiced my concerns and those of thousands of League supporters and National Trust members.

Hunting continues under the guise of 'trail' hunting - something the Trust licenses in spite of the views of the tens of thousands of members who voted for it to stop, who were thwarted by a fist full of discretionary votes cast by the Chair. Even unlicensed hunts appear free to hunt on regardless, with little discernible action to stop them and some apparently rewarded for trespass by being formally granted a licence to carry on.

There are ways you can help, including taking part in upcoming protests outside National Trust properties and signing our petition, but first some background.

The Trust maintains that 'trail' hunting is a legitimate activity, and that most hunts operate legally. As you're here, I'd wager you know the truth, but it bears repeating. 'Trail' hunting is nothing but a cynical cover for illegal hunting, designed purely to provide an alibi for the frequent and inevitable 'accidents' where wild mammals are chased and killed, the evidence of which the Trust has failed to heed. This reality was recognised by a judge who described the behaviour of the Fernie Hunt as "a cynical subterfuge" when dismissing an appeal from staff of the Fernie Hunt convicted of illegal hunting.

In its efforts to head off a ban, the Trust announced an updated licensing regime and made numerous commitments to address concerns and sway votes. Inadequate as they were, they were at least a chance for the Trust to show it really cared about preventing illegal hunting on its land. Sadly, and predictably, this chance has been squandered. Commitments have been ditched, unfathomable decisions taken, efforts seemingly made to appease the hunts, and confusion thrown into the mix for good measure.

Our many concerns include that the Trust has reneged on its commitment to publish the routes that hunts would supposedly follow, while dodging the question of whether the information is collected at all. It has also failed to make public the precise dates on which hunts will take place, seemingly has not bothered to implement any system to monitor compliance, and has pushed through licences for individual hunts in the face of concerns over their behaviour.

While enforcement of licence conditions is one thing, there's little point in the system if hunts are free to ignore it entirely, with trespass reports now in double figures and growing.

So what's the answer to the problem of hunt trespass on National Trust land? It seems the Trust may have hit upon one. What better way to discourage further trespass than to, er, license the culprits? Problem solved!

Joking aside, it's a deeply disappointing development in the saga of the National Trust turning a blind eye to illegal hunting on its land. Of the myriad ways in which it has reneged on its commitments, this is perhaps one of the clearest.

Back in November, the notorious Warwickshire Hunt were caught trespassing on National Trust land at Farnborough Hall. The initial response received from the local estate suggested that there were no signs it had happened. After video footage emerged to prove it, we were told that the hunt had apologised for the incident, explaining that they were simply "gathering hounds" which had strayed from a nearby trail. That would be the Warwickshire hunt recently filmed chasing foxes, rampaging through private gardens and reportedly attacking hunt sabs. Some trails indeed.

Fast-forward to January, and the Warwickshire Hunt were licenced to operate on the very same land. Is that how the Trust 'firmly reminds' hunts of its position on so-called trail hunting on its land, as we are frequently told in response to reports of trespass? It seems so.

A hunt was also witnessed trespassing on Trust land in January at Long Mynd, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Shropshire, clearly not 'trail' hunting. We were told by staff that enquiries were ongoing and they were yet to determine whether the culprits were the South Shropshire Hunt or the United Pack. We were therefore astonished to learn that one of those hunts had been licenced to operate on the very same land, followed in short order by the second of the two, nicely covering all bases.

Now it's the turn of the Eskdale and Ennerdale Foxhounds, recently granted a licence to hunt in large areas of the West Lakes. As you may have by now guessed, they were also reported trespassing on National Trust land in Wasdale, Cumbria, back in November, this time with terrier men in tow. Those would be the terrier men which even the Trust itself acknowledges are 'redundant' and have no place on a legitimate 'trail' hunt. Their exclusion from Trust land formed a key part of the Trust's messaging in the run up to the AGM. Their frequent presence at so-called 'trail' hunts across the country, including those licenced by the Trust, speaks to the fact that they are really out hunting animals.

It's increasingly clear that the National Trust is at least failing to deal with hunting on its land, and seemingly laughing at those of us who took part in the AGM process in good faith. So, what to do?

  • Sign our petition to stop the killing of animals by hunts in the UK, including on National Trust land.
  • Take part in one of the 20 protests outside National Trust Properties on 25 February 2018.
  • Write a letter/email to your local paper(s).
  • Report any suspected illegal activity or trespass on National Trust land to Animal Crimewatch.

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