In supporters we trust
Author: Emma Judd, Deputy Director of External Affairs
Hot on the heels of the guilty verdict in the Mark Hankinson case, another major landmark event happened – National Trust members voted by a landslide to ask the board of trustees to ban trail hunting licences.
It had been a campaign that ran for more than 600 days. Back in the early-pandemic world of early 2020 we asked you, our supporters, to back a motion put forward by Dr Denise Taylor to ask the National Trust to ban trail hunting on its land.
It was the continuation of a campaign we ran in 2017 – narrowly losing the vote that time because the chairman backed the status quo.
Chris Luffingham, deputy CEO, at the time lived near the office and he was the only one allowed to go in and check the post. What he found astonished him.
We were in the early part of lockdown, where people had to have a very good reason to leave their houses. We felt it would be incredibly difficult for our supporters to print out a form, sign it, find a stamp and post it to us in time for us to forward it to the National Trust. We needed 50 forms, but every day I went into the office they just kept coming: it was fantastic and shows how passionate our supporters really are. We ended up with hundreds, and the motion was accepted."
Chris Luffingham, deputy CEO
The campaign we had planned in January 2020 was heavily reliant on face-to-face campaigning and had to be rapidly redrawn to go online.
Our aim was to draw attention to the fact that if trail hunting was a real, safe pastime, then why would hounds be found on roads and railways? Why would badger setts be blocked? Why do terrier men even exist? Why do livestock get terrorised? Why are domestic pets endangered by the hunt? And why do the hunts trespass on land where they’re not welcome?
The answer, as we all know, is that trail hunting isn’t real. It’s a sham, a mirage, a fiction and a smokescreen.
Our aim was to repeat the message over and over again, while urging supporters and members of the public to back the motion when it came to the National Trust’s AGM.
The National Trust is one of the UK’s largest landowners, and it owns or is responsible for, managing 250,000 hectares or 620,000 acres of land. At its height in 2016/17 the National Trust issued 79 licences to 67 fox hunts to engage in trail hunting on its land.
Of course the pandemic had other ideas, and the AGM was cancelled.
Happily the motion could be deferred to the 2021 AGM, so the hard work of our supporters was not wasted.
With pandemic restrictions being lifted as the vaccine programme was rolled out, we could return to Plan A, and go back to Covid-safe on-the-street campaigning in England and Wales.
It was amazing to be back on the road again, being able to stand with supporters and League volunteers talking to the public about why the issue is important and what they could do to help."
Nick Weston, Head of Campaigns
Nick Weston, head of campaigns, said: “It was amazing to be back on the road again, being able to stand with supporters and League volunteers talking to the public about why the issue is important and what they could do to help.”
The Trust, head quartered in Swindon, Wilts, usually holds its AGM in the town, but had decided to move it to Harrogate in Yorkshire.
Our plan was simple: though we knew most votes would have been cast online or via post, we would ask as many of our supporters as possible to join us in Harrogate to ensure those attending knew how much their vote would count.
“We were utterly staggered by the number of supporters who came to help,” said Nick.
“The whole of the front of the convention centre was a sea of green League T-shirts, flags and placards. It was immense and sent the strongest message possible to the hunts.”
And then came the best news from the AGM. The motion to ban trail hunting gained 76,816 members' votes, a majority of 38,632 over the 38,184 who voted against.
The largest voting turnout at a National Trust AGM in its history.
And the motion won by a larger margin that the entire number of votes cast in 2017.
There were tears of joy on the streets of Harrogate that afternoon.
Their members’ voices could not have been louder, sending a clear message to the board of trustees that enough is enough and trail hunting should be banned on trust land."
Chris Luffingham, Deputy CEO
Chris takes up the tale again: “Their members’ voices could not have been louder, sending a clear message to the board of trustees that enough is enough and trail hunting should be banned on trust land.”
The vote was eventually ratified at a meeting of the National Trust’s board in December, when they agreed to stop issuing licences to hunts for trail hunting. They have so far refused to use the word ‘ban’, but in a statement they also recognised that the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MHFA), hunting’s administrative overseers, have lost their confidence that hunting laws are always obeyed. That was following the trial and conviction of Mark Hankinson.
Happily, the move from the National Trust followed hot on the heels of Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the largest landowner in Wales, also banning trail hunting.
The NRW said in a statement that: “The outcome of the court case against a senior leader of the MFHA has resulted in a loss of confidence in the organisation’s ability to ensure its activities are carried out within the law and terms of its agreement.”
We, and you our supporters, still have a job to do: to continue lobbying other major landowners such as Forestry England, United Utilities, the Church of England, Crown Estates, Duchy of Cornwall, local authorities, the national parks authorities, and the Ministry of Defence to follow the National Trust and Natural Resources Wales in banning the practice of trail hunting.