National Trust Face Membership Revolt Over Hunting Licences

A group of members, supported by animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports, have successfully submitted a motion which will be voted on at the Trust’s AGM in October. If passed, the motion will prevent hunts from legally accessing large amounts of land across England and Wales.

Philippa King, acting CEO for the League Against Cruel Sports, said:

“This could be a landmark moment. The National Trust is a treasured institution which does wonderful work, but it has allowed itself to be embarrassed by the hunting fraternity. The reasons hunts give to justify being on National Trust land have been shown time and time again to be mere excuses covering up illegal hunting.

“We believe National Trust members do not want animals being chased and killed on the land they love, so will give the National Trust a strong message at the AGM – if you truly are an organisation that cares about the UK’s flora and fauna, then hunting does not belong on your land.”

The ‘trail hunting’ excuse

According to the Observer, the National Trust granted 79 annual licences to hunts last year seeking to engage in trail hunting, which the hunts claim is hunting by following a pre-laid trail, and not intended to involve the chasing and killing of live animals.

However, reports from over 30 hunt monitors across ten years from different organisations covering the majority of hunts in England and Wales (157), have reported witnessing someone laying a possible trail only in an average of around 3% of the occasions they monitored hunts. Worse, they believed that they may have witnessed a genuine trail hunting event, rather than a fake one, on an average of around 0.04% of occasions.

National Trust member Helen Beynon, one of the organisers of the motion which will be heard at the AGM, said:

“A long time Trust member, until January 2017, I had no idea hunting continued after the ban. Like the vast majority of the public, I had no reason to think the spirit of the law was not being upheld.

“When I was invited to see what happens on a ‘trail hunt’, I was appalled to see how loopholes in the law were being exploited. I realised this activity was so easily used as a smokescreen to hunt and kill "accidentally". The abuse I received from hunt followers, and then seeing a hound hit by a car, left me shocked. Realising that I might be indirectly supporting this abhorrent practice, I resolved to find a way to stop it on Trust land.

“Through the commitment of a small team of conservationists and supporters, we have succeeded in taking this to a vote. This members' resolution should signal the death knell for hunting with hounds on huge swathes of land from Snowdonia to Borrowdale and end the dangers of packs of hounds exercising on Trust beaches and nature reserves. I don't doubt that the majority of members would support this resolution, if they are only made aware.”

Explorer and National Trust member Sir Ranulph Fiennes, in support of the League Against Cruel Sports’ campaign to end hunting on National Trust land said:

“I have a passion for this country, our land and our animals. On the whole, the work the National Trust does to protect the land it owns is excellent. That is why it is so disappointing that hunting is still taking place on their land.

“The evidence is clear that the given title of ‘trail hunting’ is a sham. These hunts are still killing foxes, hares and stags – and they are being allowed to do so on National Trust land. Hunting is despicable, cruel and has no justification in modern Britain. If the National Trust want to truly preserve and protect our environment, they need to stop condoning hunting, in any guise immediately.”

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 into 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 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.

Philippa King added:

“We have shown the Trust video footage of hunts chasing and killing stags on their land, and we have offered them advice and support. But there seems to be no will to try and stop this. We’re not sure why. But those making these decisions will find that they are significantly out of step with the majority of their members.

“The groundswell of public opinion against the NT allowing hunting is already massive and growing by the day, as more people realise it’s happening. This movement is coming from National Trust members themselves who have had enough. A petition against the Trust allowing trail hunting on its land reached over 130,000 signatures.

“National Trust members, you now have the chance to take this matter into your own hands – please don’t let it slip by.”

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