Parliamentary pressure mounts on ‘trail’ hunting

The conviction of Mark Hankinson at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in October 2021 for encouraging others to illegally hunt under the cover of ‘trail’ hunting was a seismic moment. Since then, trail hunting has been banned on over a million acres of land, including by the National Trust and Natural Resources Wales. The missing piece of the puzzle has been government action to end the sham of trail hunting. However, we can take heart that pressure for change is mounting and that with your support we are keeping the issue firmly on the agenda.

You can help push Parliament to take action today. Write to your MP below:

Here at the League we’ve taken our message to the heart of government, including meetings with the Environment Secretary. The government is finding it increasingly difficult to ignore the evidence we put to them. The hunts themselves complained vociferously of our efforts and impact during the trial over the now infamous leaked webinars. This was perhaps the greatest compliment we could have wished for.

In light of Hankinson’s conviction, trail hunting is increasingly being raised in Parliament. Luke Pollard MP and Alex Norris MP both raised questions to ministers at DEFRA and the MoD encouraging government action on trail hunting. Sadly, the answers received were not direct – in fact they said nothing at all. Two things are clear though – trail hunting is still allowed on government land and they remain reluctant to strengthen the Hunting Act.

In response, we have a question of our own. Why is the government burying its head in the sand? It is becoming increasingly clear that the government’s position on trail hunting, despite its exposure as a “smokescreen” for illegal hunting, is frustratingly stagnant.  It seems clear that the government will not yet take the decisive action needed to end animal cruelty. Instead, they ignore the issue.

On Boxing Day, Jim McMahon, Shadow Defra Secretary called for a ban on ‘trail’ hunting on public land – and his predecessor, Luke Pollard MP made the case for a strengthening of the Hunting Act. These pieces, alongside calls for action from the League generated extensive coverage of calls for a ban on trail hunting.

The Kept Animals Bill too has provided opportunities to raise the issue of hunting in Parliament. At the committee stage, amendments were proposed that took action against hunting. These amendments ranged from removing the exemption for hunts from livestock worrying and road traffic legislation to taking steps to ban terrier work on hunts.

When discussing terrier work, Daniel Zeichner MP said “those who work with terriers still sometimes accompany hunts under the guise of trail hunting. There is of course little reason for that since no live wild mammals should be hunted and there should be no need for support to flush out a wild mammal”. This echoes what we have long been saying, and Hankinson, the disgraced now former director of the MFHA himself described terrier work as “our soft underbelly”. The hunting community knows this is wrong, yet it is still permitted, and as the webinars show, even encouraged. It was welcome to hear Daniel thank the League for our input into the amendments he and the shadow environment team put forward.

In his wide ranging speech, Zeichner argued against the legal exemptions allowing hounds to run amok on Britain’s roads, “If trail hunts are operated properly, they can be organised in a manner whereby there is no possibility of hounds ending up on the road”.  This hits the nail on the head. Trail hunts do not operate “properly”, they were never designed to. By their own admission, trail hunting is a smokescreen. It is designed to look legal, not be legal.

While these amendments were voted down at committee, there will be fresh amendments at the next stage of the bill. Opportunity and appetite for legislative change will only grow this year.

Trail hunting is a sham, a smokescreen, a mirage - a cover for illegal hunting. We know that. You know that. As we heard last year, the deputy chief magistrate for England & Wales knows it too. The hunts have been caught out admitting what they didn’t want the public to know.

The position the government has put itself in is becoming increasingly untenable with every major landowner that bans trail hunting. For years the hunts have been pulling the wool over their eyes, it’s time the government recognised this deception.

Enough is enough. Call on the government to take action against the smokescreen of trail hunting. Write to your MP today.

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