‘Trail Hunting’ under the microscope as fox hunting season starts

The realities and legality of ‘trail hunting’ will be studied more than ever before when the fox hunting season starts on Wednesday 1st November, following the recent narrow defeat of a motion to ban it on National Trust land.

Hunts will be heading out with most claiming to be ‘trail hunting’, which is allegedly a sport that involves hounds following a ‘trail’ and does not involve the killing of animals. However, the League Against Cruel Sports and other animal welfare organisations strongly believe that ‘trail hunting’ is just a cover for illegal hunting.

The motion calling for a ban on trail hunting, exempt hunting and hound exercise on National Trust land, failed to carry by a margin of just 299 votes at the Trust’s AGM.

Philippa King, Acting CEO of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “The recent vote has really opened people’s eyes to the realities of ‘trail hunting’. As much as the hunting community would like us to believe that what they are doing complies with the law, more than 400 pages of evidence quash their claims.

“Time and time again the League has shown that ‘trail hunting’ is resulting in wildlife being persecuted in a similar way to before the hunting ban came in. Now, more than ever, we will be watching very carefully and reporting each and every time we see evidence of illegal behaviour.”

‘Trail hunting’ purports to mimic traditional hunting by following an artificial animal scent trail, but it is laid in areas where wildlife naturally occurs and those controlling the hounds are not usually told where the scent has been laid, so if the hounds end up following a live animal scent and a fox or hare is chased and killed, this is passed off as an accident. Evidence shows that there is nothing accidental about it1.

Most registered fox and hare hunts now claim to be ‘trail hunting’ – an activity that was not in existence when the Hunting Act 2004 was drafted, and which should not be confused with 'drag' hunting. ‘Drag’ hunting has existed as a legitimate sport for around 200 years and uses non-animal based scents, laid as trails in areas where foxes and hares are not usually found and with the huntsmen having full knowledge of where the trail is being laid, making ‘accidental kills’ practically unheard of.

“We are urging all landowners who permit hunting on their land, to be under no illusion that there are people intent on circumventing the law, so they need robust plans in place to monitor this. If the hunts have nothing to hide, they shouldn’t mind the additional scrutiny”, said Philippa King.

“It’s time the illegal activity currently going on under people’s noses under the guide of ‘trail hunting’ is stopped – 84 per cent of people in England and Wales support a ban on hunting and they have been truly shocked to find out the level to which this type of hunting is still ongoing.

“Strengthening the Hunting Act starts with exposing trail hunting as it’s practiced today for what it really is – an excuse to continue chasing and killing animals. The public wants to know that the Act is being properly enforced and that wildlife is being protected.”

New licensing requirements laid out by the National Trust are a step in the right direction – they include hunts not being able to use animal-based scents and terrier men not accompanying hunts when they go out – but they do not go nearly far enough. The Trust has no plans in place to monitor the hunts’ compliance with the new guidelines and has refused offers of training and resources from the League. The official fox hunting season starts on 1st November 2017 and runs until March 31st 2018.

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors

  1. Reports from more than 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.

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