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Members of the UK charity The National Trust voted to ban “trail hunting”, exempt hunting and hounds exercise in the Trust’s land, which is a major blow to the hunting fraternity. A significant proportion of the land registered hunts have traditionally used for foxhunting and hare hunting is National Trust land.

The “National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty” (popularly known as The National Trust, or NT) is one of the major landowners in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It owns almost 250,000 hectares (2,500 km2) of land and 780 miles of coast. In 2018, the National Trust licensed 25 hunts to undertake “trail hunting” on its land.

On 30th October 2021, the NT held its annual AGM in the Harrogate Convention Centre, in North Yorkshire. One of the motions tabled by members called for a ban of all hunts’ field activities. A total of 76,816 votes were cast for the motion, with 38,184 votes against and 18,047 abstentions. 

This is the result of a long campaign fought by the UK anti-hunting movement since realizing that the hunting fraternity had found ways to circumvent the ban of hunting. Since the Hunting Act 2004 was enacted, hunting mammals with dogs was banned in England and Wales, but registered hunts continued hunting either exploiting some of the exemptions that still allow hunting mammals under certain circumstances or especially by inventing a new activity, “trail hunting”, in which, supposedly, hounds follow a trail of artificial scent laid by people rather than wild mammals. 

Cornwall coast path with a view

Campaigners have always claimed that “trail hunting” is just a smokescreen to create an alibi for illegal hunting. Despite several successful convictions of huntsmen, many people, including the police and major landowners such as the National Trust, believed this lie. However, a recent conviction of Mark Hankinson, the director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (the governing body for registered packs of foxhounds in England and Wales), for encouraging and assisting people to evade the ban on foxhunting, may have finally changed that. 

NT anti-hunting members have been very active over the years. In another AGM in 1997, members voted to ban stag hunting on NT land, a milestone that has been regarded as the trigger which later led to the UK hunting ban. And they tabled motions to ban “trail hunting” several times before. Only now they have managed to secure a majority of votes for it, thanks to the work of the Hunt Saboteurs Association which obtained the evidence that led to the conviction of Mark Hankinson, and the campaign of anti-hunting organizations such as the group The National Dis-Trust.

All eyes are now on the NT’s Trustees because they will have to decide if they will honor the non-binding motion voted by the charity’s members. It is within their discretion to honor it or not, but it would be difficult for them to ignore it, considering the recent conviction. After all, they decided to suspend the hunts’ licenses in November last year while the trial was in progress. Other major landowners that did the same (such as Forestry England and United Utilities) will be under pressure to permanently ban trail hunting on their land too.