Boxing Day further exposes trail hunting

Following a landmark court case which exposed ‘trail’ hunting as a smokescreen and highlighted weaknesses in the law, major landowners have banned ‘trail’ hunting on their land. Calls for action have only mounted since, including recent widescale media reporting of hunting on public land. Over the festive period, the League highlighted hunting on Ministry of Defence land, while the increasingly outdated tradition of the Boxing Day hunt was called into question. Enough is enough. While the government drags its feet, the case for strengthening the law and ending trail hunting grows stronger than ever.

Last year, trail hunting was well-and-truly exposed as a “smokescreen” for illegal hunting, with the deputy chief magistrate for England and Wales labelling it a “sham and a fiction”.

Mark Hankinson, the now former director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA), was found guilty of encouraging others to hunt illegally, under the Serious Crimes Act 2007. This followed leaked training webinars organised by the Hunting Office featuring several senior officials, which showcased how trail hunting could be used as a smokescreen for illegal hunting. The hunting lobby has been pulling the wool over the eyes of the country since 2005.

While the deception has been exposed, the weaknesses in the law which enable it to take place remain, with loopholes and exemptions in the Hunting Act ripe for exploitation. Until they are closed and the ban strengthened, effective enforcement will be prevented.

Following the case, major landowners including the National Trust and Natural Resources Wales have taken action to prevent their land being used for illegal hunting. A representative of the Countryside Alliance was also suspended from involvement in UK Priority Delivery Groups on wildlife crime overseen by the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

However, the government is increasingly missing in action. Answers to questions raised by MPs have been frustratingly lacking in content, while the Ministry of Defence has continued to endorse trail hunting despite its use as a cover for illegal hunting. The government department has so far issued licenses for at least 243 days of hunting on its land this season alone.

There is no longer a debate about the reality of trail hunting. It has been exposed in court as a “sham and a smokescreen”, and those organisations which advocate for it have lost credibility. The question is now when the Hunting Act will be strengthened to end illegal hunting for good. In doing so, the government would be acting on the recommendations of a recent UN report on wildlife crime that the exemptions in the hunting ban be reviewed.

Such a move would undoubtedly be popular. Nationally representative opinion polling shows that 85 per cent of the population oppose fox hunting (Ipsos MORI, 2017), with even 81 per cent of rural people supporting the ban. Further polling reveals that just one in six rural people believe hunting with dogs reflects countryside values (Survation, 2018). YouGov’s polling tracker also shows consistently overwhelming, cross-party opposition to hunting.

Ignoring the issue will no longer wash. Enough is enough. It’s time for government to act to end trail hunting on government land and to strengthen the Hunting Act.

Please do get in touch to speak further about ending trail hunting in the UK.

Contact: Will Morton (Head of Public Affairs),


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