National Trust – What you need to know before you vote

National Trust members now have the chance to vote to ban trail hunting from NT land. This is a unique opportunity to save potentially thousands of animals from being terrorised, chased and killed in the name of ‘sport’.

Based on evidence from hunt monitors collected over more than ten years, the League believes that ‘trail hunting’, the activity the National Trust licences on its properties, is nothing but a false alibi for ‘real’ hunting, in which foxes and hares are killed.

Once the motion to ban hunting on NT land was made public, the Trust have responded in two ways, in a bid to persuade their members not to vote for the motion. Firstly they announced changes to the way they will license trail hunting, and the second was offering advice to members as to how they should vote.

We believe the arguments being used by the NT are flawed, and believe that the only way to ensure that illegal hunting doesn’t take place on NT land is to ban trail hunting completely. Please take a moment to read our reasons why, below (or for a shorter summary, read this blog from League acting CEO Philippa King).

Response to the National Trust changes in trail hunting licence conditions

The League Against Cruel Sports believe that although the changes in licensing forms and procedures made in 2017 may be a step in the right direction, they are insufficient to address the problems of allowing trail hunting in National Trust land. This is because:

  1. These changes still rely heavily on self-reporting by the hunts
  2. The changes do not address the problem of lack of official monitoring of the hunting activities in National Trust land
  3. The changes do not address the problem of lack of enforcement of National Trust rules when hunts enter National Trust land
  4. The changes do not address the problems of disturbance to wildlife and natural habitats by the hunts when in National Trust land

We are glad to see that the Trust recognises there is an issue with trail hunting possibly being a cover for illegal hunting. However we are disappointed that the changes proposed do not go far enough, and in consequence we don’t believe they would stop illegal hunting in National Trust land.

Problems with these changes

Some of the changes suggested may be well-intentioned, but there are problems which suggest that they are unlikely to make any positive difference. For instance:

  • ”We now require the use only of artificial, non-animal-based scents. We believe that this will reduce the risk of foxes or other wild animals being accidentally chased”.

Research has already shown that in the vast majority of cases trail hunts don’t even bother to lay any trail and they simply claim they did (or pretend they do with a drag that has no scent in it). This change will therefore not affect the majority of trail hunt events. For those that may lay a trail, the reduction of foxes or other wild animals being accidentally chased will only occur if:

  1. The hunts actually do not use animal based scent, AND…
  2. The scents the hunts uses are analysed by the Trust or an independent party to confirm it is not animal-based, AND…
  3. The hounds have not been trained to follow animal-based scents prior to the event (currently they are trained during cub hunting in autumn and by following animal-based scents elsewhere in other trail hunting events), AND…
  4. Those controlling the hounds know where the artificial scent has been laid so they can stop the hounds if they follow a real mammal’s scent instead.
    As none of these points are part of the license conditions this change alone is unlikely to make any effective difference.

  • ”We will not allow the presence of terriermen, who we believe have no practical purpose on a trail ‘hunt’, or the use of their vehicles."

In terms of terriermen, we think this is not an actual change as we believe terriermen (people who send terriers underground to find escaped foxes) were not allowed during trail hunting with the previous protocol anyway (as what justification would there have been to allow them before?). Also the way trail hunts circumvent these sorts of rules is by declaring that the terriermen who may turn up have nothing to do with them, but they are independent contractors simply doing business by themselves.

Indeed, a trail hunt’s huntsman whose hounds are chasing a fox that goes to ground could still call a terrierman waiting outside the National Trust land, move his hounds away while the terrierman arrives on foot with a terrier (to follow the vehicle ban), and then the hunt move out while the terrierman digs out the fox as his normal “pest control service” claiming that it has nothing to do with the trail hunting event.

  • ”We are introducing mandatory reporting requirements following each meet (a template is attached for illustration)”

If the National Trust still believes the version of events the hunts give them, or still tolerates breaches of the rules as it has been doing so far, it would make very little difference if they make such reporting compulsory. Only if such reports were made public after each trail hunting event and could then be challenged, could this reporting then help.

  • ”We will require, as part of the application, the provision of specified maps/areas, and the precise dates when trail hunts will take place.”

Providing specific maps will be useful but it is important to provide the names of the huntsman and whipper-in who are going to participate in each trail hunting event. Given it is the hunstmen and whipper-ins who are those that control the hounds – and who are those that tend to be prosecuted with illegal hunting if the Hunting Act is being breached – these names are more relevant to the activity.

  • ”In order to be totally transparent, we will post on the ‘outdoors activity’ area of our website the agreed days and locations, in advance, for our members and supporters to view. This will include a primary point of contact for each hunt.”

We believe that this will be helpful, but will require additional clarification. If only the dates and general locations are published, rather than the maps and specific areas that the hunts included in their licence application, this would be insufficient.

  • ”Ensure that the Activity is exercised so as not to cause or be likely to cause injury or disturbance to any livestock or people.”

We are disappointed that this has not included wildlife as well, especially considering that many of the National Trust sites are protected areas, and the main problems hunts cause are to wildlife.

  • ”Only pass across the Land specified under the terms of this licence, and will take all precautions necessary to avoid areas marked as excluded.”

This again requires further clarification, in particular as to which precautions are necessary. The hunts may interpret that all the actions they have taken are already sufficient. In the application form, there is the requirement to provide a risk assessment that covers how to prevent damage to Trust visitors, staff and volunteers, how to deal with emergency, and how to ensure the control and safety of hunt followers and hounds, but, surprisingly, it does not mention how to ensure the safety of wildlife, and which measures will be taken to prevent and stop any hound chasing a wild animal.

How licensing could work in reality

As before, we do not believe the changes by the National Trust would prevent illegal hunting. If the Trust genuinely want to license trail hunting, rather than ban it outright, we therefore believe that the following requirements, in addition to those already outlined, are necessary:

Hunt staff

  1. Details of the hunt’s staff (huntsman, whippers-in, and masters) and contractors to be used in any particular hunting day must be produced to the National Trust before the trail hunting event.
  2. Huntsman, whippers-in, and masters must know where all artificial trails have been laid prior to setting the hounds to find them.
  3. Hunt staff who have been convicted of breaches of the Hunting Act 2004 cannot be involved in hunting on National Trust land.

Laying of the trail

  • An artificial scent should never be laid more than 20 minutes before the hounds are set to find it.
  • No drawing in woods, copses, coverts or any locations where foxes or hares are likely to live, should occur.

Control of hounds

  1. Only hounds which have not been trained to follow an animal-based scent may be used.
  2. Hounds must remain under the control of hunt staff at all times and must be immediately stopped if they follow the scent of a live mammal.
  3. Hounds must be called back to the huntsman if hunt staff are notified about the sighting of a fox or hare in the area where the hounds are or are likely to be soon.
  4. Failure to comply with any of the licence conditions should automatically lead to the hunt concerned losing its license.

Advice given to members

The National Trust is recommending that their members vote against the motion to ban trail hunting. The main reason given appears to be that: ‘There is no current evidence from our properties that trail hunts are any more or less damaging to conservation than many other outdoor pursuits that we license’.

This statement is based on the assumption that the trail hunts are hunting legally. We do not believe this assumption can be made, given the amount of evidence suggesting that the vast majority of trail hunts don’t actually lay trails.

Aside from this, there is a lot of evidence showing how damaging hunting is to conservation. Full details can be seen in the League’s new report, The Conservation Problems of Hunting with Dogs during the Hunting Ban in England and Wales, or summarised in this blog, How bad are hunts for conservation?

Further points made in the Trust’s guidance notes for members raise more questions than give answers. For example:

  1. As hounds that have been trained to follow animal-based scent will ignore a non-animal-based scent when on NT land, would the NT clarify that their ban on using animal based scents while trail hunting actually means a ban on using hounds that have never been trained to follow a live mammal or any animal-based scent
  2. Considering the expected clarification of the previous question, and as all hunts the NT have licensed in the past have used, and still use, animal-based scents and life animal scents, can the NT confirm that no license for trail-hunting will be given to any such hunts before they prove that either they have replaced all their hounds by hounds that have only been used in drag hunting, or they have re-trained all of them to follow non-animal based scent, which is likely to take more than two hunting seasons?
  3. How would the NT know that the scent used by trail hunts in NT land is indeed non-animal based, as hunts aiming to breach this condition would lie about it?
  4. When the NT publish the details of the trail hunting events planned for the season, would the information include the areas where the trails are supposed to be laid, in addition to the time and site for the hunt to meet?
  5. On how many occasions did a hunt which was not monitored or whose activities were not witnessed by anyone, end up hunting illegally when on NT land?
  6. On how many occasions did a hunt which was not monitored or whose activities were not witnessed by anyone, end up disturbing wildlife when in NT land?
  7. What is the percentage of allegations of illegal hunting made against hunts when on NT land that were investigated by the NT?
  8. How many allegations of illegal hunting that were investigated by the NT land led to no action against the hunt taken by the NT?
  9. How many allegations of illegal hunting that were investigated by the NT land led to no action against the hunt taken by the NT because the version of events of the suspects were believed rather than the version of the witnesses?
  10. What is the percentage of actual illegal hunting events committed by trail hunts in NT land that the NT has investigated?
  11. What is the percentage of actual breaches of NT licence conditions perpetrated by trail hunts that the NT has investigated?
  12. What is the percentage of actual disturbance to wildlife events caused by trail hunts in NT land that the NT has investigated?
  13. If the NT believe that there is no current evidence that hunts are equal or less damaging to conservation than any outdoor pursuit the NT licences, why is the NT considering licensing trail hunts if in fact they may well be causing more damage?
  14. Why do the NT believe that the NWCU is ideally placed to handle alleged breaches or complaints when they never investigate allegations of breaches of the Hunting Act, they have never been directly involved in any prosecution of Hunting Act offences, none of its members are expert on illegal hunting with dogs, and the NWCU’s primary purpose is to assist with the UK wildlife crime priorities, which include poaching but not hunting?
  15. As banning trail hunting does not mean banning access to NT land to hunt supporters or hunt staff who can enjoy the land as any other member of the public does, why does the NT argue that licensing trail hunting is necessary to provide access to members of a hunt to their land?
  16. Why does the NT not make a distinction between trail hunting, which the AGM resolution refers to, and drag hunting, which it does not?

The League believes that the National Trust’s arguments against the motion to ban trail hunting are flawed, and raise more questions than they answer. We believe the National Trust’s response highlights a naivety about the trail hunting activities that take place on their land.

We believe that once trail hunts are allowed onto NT land, whatever licensing arrangements have been made, they will attempt to chase and kill foxes, hares and stags – because that is what they do.

The only way to ensure that National Trust land is not used for such barbaric behaviour is to ban trail hunts completely.

Sign up for our newsletter

We'd love to keep in touch. With your permission we'll let you know the very latest news on our fast-moving campaigns, as well as appeals and other actions (such as petitions) so you can continue to help protect animals.

If you would like to know more about your data protection rights, please read our privacy policy.

© 2023 The League Against Cruel Sports. Registered charity in England and Wales (1095234) and Scotland (SC045533).
Registered in England and Wales as a company limited by guarantee, no. 04037610.
Registered office: New Sparling House, Holloway Hill, Godalming, GU7 1QZ, United Kingdom.