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National Dis-Trust: The fox hunt is on

Fox hunting may seem like a thing of the past following the Government’s ban with the 2004 Hunting Act, but the flash of red jackets galloping across the countryside following a pack of hounds tells a different story. The hugely controversial practice of trail hunting is currently allowed on National Trust land, and now the power to stop it lies in the hands of members.

A members’ resolution is being taken to the next National Trust AGM on Saturday, 21st October, and there will be a chance to stop trail hunting on the land with the simple act of a vote.

The National Trust is the nation’s biggest land owner. Earlier this year, it set out plans to reverse the decline in wildlife on their land. John*, a volunteer at anti-hunting organisation League Against Cruel Sports, says this does not align with trail hunting: “Their stance on fox hunting simply doesn't stack up with how they attempt to portray themselves nor with the positive work that they undeniably do.”

He explains what trail hunting is, and why it is such a cause for concern for animal protection groups: “Trail hunting, in theory, is the legal pursuit of a pre-laid trail by registered fox hunts that does not involve the pursuit and killing of wild animals. However, in reality, 'trail hunting' simply does not exist. You only need to look at the behaviour of some of those 67 hunts who have been filmed in recent weeks to see what a sham this is.”

Beyond next Saturday’s vote, the campaigners hope that a ban on National Trust land would set a precedent for other landowners.

John says: “The National Trust is one of the largest private landowners in the UK, and with five million members is arguably the most powerful charity in terms of the influence it has for the future of wildlife.”

Votes for animals

With the knowledge that trail hunting is being licensed on National Trust land, National Trust member Helen Beynon is bringing a resolution to shut down bloodsports to the charity’s AGM on Saturday, 21st October, 2017. Members now have a chance to wield their power, either by attending the Swindon AGM in person, or by casting a proxy vote.

With the looming deadline for proxy votes at 23.59 tomorrow (Friday 13th October), the campaign group behind the resolution, The National Dis-Trust, has shared guidelines on how to vote on their Facebook page. The group will also be turning up the temperature by staging a demonstration outside the venue.  Anti-hunting group Keep The Ban will also be joining them.

The latest Ipsos MORI survey shows that 84% of the public are in support of keeping the ban on fox hunting, including 82% from rural areas. “We know that 84% of people in the population are against hunting, why would that be any different in the National Trust?” Helen asks.

Helen never expected to be an activist. All that changed the day she attended a demonstration against hunting, and was met with aggression and intimidation by hunt supporters. She says that a terrierman (someone who flushes out foxes with dogs, and follows the hunt on quad bikes) whispered in her ear that he had sent his dogs digging after foxes that very morning. That was the moment she knew she had to continue campaigning.

She was invited to see trail hunting happening on National Trust land, where the practice is licensed. “I saw hunt supporters who abused us and tried to prevent us watching what was happening. I saw foxes being chased, and hounds that were out of control,” she says.

Isn’t fox hunting illegal?

Like many people, Helen thought the ban meant the end of fox hunting. It was only at the beginning of this year that she discovered it was still happening.

The Hunting Act, a law set out to ban hunting with dogs, was introduced 13 years ago by former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour party. The law covers all mammals, with the exception of rats and rabbits in some circumstances. However, the League Against Cruel Sports claims that illegal hunts are still happening in vast numbers, estimating that 200,000 illegal hunting incidents may have been committed since the Act came into force.

John says: “For a lot of people, fox hunting is something they regard as a thing of the past. The Hunting Act is a piece of legislation which should have stopped this barbarism from taking place, but quite simply, those taking part just ignore the legislation. They don't use loopholes. They don't 'accidentally' chase and kill foxes and other wildlife. They treat the law with contempt, and with premeditation.”

What does the Trust say?

In a statement on their website, the National Trust says: “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.

“We believe the overwhelming majority of hunts act responsibly, and we hope our clear, robust, and transparent set of conditions will allow participants to enjoy this activity in compatibility with our conservation aims.”

The charity says it is reviewing the way it licenses trail hunts, after a recent internal review of processes and procedures.

Now, or never

Helen says that after this vote, it will be another three years before a vote on hunting is allowed at an AGM: “We need to mobilise people to vote this year, otherwise it’s another three years. This has got to be the time that we make a difference.”

The Hunting Act may be in place to protect small mammals from the jaws of the hounds, but the controversy around trail hunting and the less than fleeting hint at a repeal during the snap General Election proves otherwise. Until next Saturday, the future for foxes on National Trust land remains to be seen.

You can hear more about the National Dis-Trust campaign here.

*John has asked for his name to be changed.

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