Ethan Shone 19th August 2018
Over the last few months, anti-hunt activists and National Trust members have been turning out to protests at sites all over the country to campaign against the continued issuing of licenses to hunting groups to “trail hunt” on National Trust land.
These protests have been coordinated nationally by anti-hunt group National Dis-Trust, in cooperation with groups local to each area.
I attended the protest at Ravenscar, near Scarborough, on the first full day of really bad weather since early May and found a handful of anti-hunt activists at the gates of the site. Most are members of the East Yorkshire Coast Hunt Sabs, and have come specifically because Ravenscar National Trust has issued a number of licenses in the last year to the nearby Staintondale Fox Hounds, to trail-hunt on their land. Staintondale notably lost control of their hounds in 2011, which killed a pet cat named Moppet.
We expect the National Trust to be guardians of our wildlife and environment but they betray that trust by allowing the hunt to persecute vulnerable animals in need of protection
A spokesperson for East Yorkshire Coast Hunt Sabs says: “We expect the National Trust to be guardians of our wildlife and environment but they betray that trust by allowing the hunt to persecute vulnerable animals in need of protection. Our wildlife is under increasing pressure as we encroach further and further on their habitat — surely National Trust land should provide a safe haven for our remaining wild animals?”
Since the 2004 hunting ban came into place it has been illegal to hunt wild animals, but so-called trail hunting, whereby the hunt follow a pre-laid trail, is allowed by law but often used as a front for illegal hunts.
When we spent a day with the North East Hunt Monitors earlier this year for instance, we reported that illegal hunting is still going on, ignored by police.
These protests have not come out of nowhere, but in fact are the latest action in a long-running campaign against fox hunting on National Trust land. After a number of well-supported petitions and pressure from members, including famed explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the National Trust held a vote among its membership in October 2017, on a motion to ban trail hunting at all their sites.
After a hard-fought campaign, members voted to ban hunting on National Trust land, with a total of 28,629 members voting for the ban and 27,525 voting against it. However, board members pulled in 3,000 proxy votes by other members and the ban was blocked.
The National Trust issues licenses to hunting groups on the understanding that they act in accordance with the Hunting Act, and do not deliberately hunt foxes. The problem, campaigners say, is that the National Trust doesn’t have the resources to make sure this is the case, and considering the evidence that the Hunting Act is so often disregarded by many groups who’ve been issued licenses, should therefore stop issuing licenses all together.
It would be unfair to say that The National Trust has totally ignored the views of a large number of its membership. After the vote, held at the Trust’s annual group meeting, a new set of rules around trail hunting on Trust sites was released, which sought to ban the use of real-animal scent and to totally ban the use of terrier-men during trail hunts, along with other measures.
Though they welcome any measures which will limit the activities of hunting groups, many campaigners feel these measures are totally inadequate and, given that the responsibility to conform to these rules will fall exclusively on the licensed groups, feel that the Trust is abdicating its responsibility to prevent illegal activity being carried out on its sites.
As the 2018/19 season begins we repeat our call for the Trust to abandon their plan to tell hunts when they will be monitoring them and replace this with random checks
National Dis-Trust says: “Along with many other groups throughout England and Wales, we continue to oppose fox hunting and the pathetic cover stories used to protect it, including on Trust land. As the 2018/19 season begins we repeat our call for the Trust to abandon their plan to tell hunts when they will be monitoring them and replace this with random checks.”
Despite the new restriction on terriermen put in place by the National Trust, East Yorkshire Coast Hunt Sabs and many other groups continue to report their presence at National Trust sites.
For many in the anti-hunting community, the continued widespread use of terriermen on supposed trail-hunts is a sign that hunts continue to break the law and purposefully hunt foxes.
The purpose of the terriermen — who typically drive quad-bikes with wooden boxes mounted on the back which contain digging tools and a terrier — was traditionally to dig out foxes that go to ground (attempt to escape the hunt by digging down into a hole) and flush them out with the terrier, so they can be killed by the hounds.
Hunts that are obeying the law should have no need for terriermen.
Campaigners also point to the Trust’s stated aims and objectives, and question whether the continued issuing of licenses to hunting groups of all kinds can be squared with them. According to its own mission statement, part of the National Trust’s remit is to “protect the natural environment” and “attract wildlife back to our fields, woods and river banks”.
Our charity’s core aim is to look after the places in our care and that remains our top priority when considering whether to license any outdoor activity
Responding the wave of protests, a National Trust spokesperson restated its position on licensing trail hunts.
“The Trust does license trail ‘hunts’ in some areas and at certain times of the year, where it is compatible with our aims of public access and conservation.”
It adds: “Our charity’s core aim is to look after the places in our care and that remains our top priority when considering whether to license any outdoor activity. This would be true whether it’s mountain biking or a food festival. But our charity was also established for the nation’s benefit and to provide the widest spectrum of public access and enjoyment. We therefore always look to welcome people to our places and to host the broadest range of outdoor activities on our land.”
Ethan Shone 19th August 2018