Are the Countryside Alliance attempting to 'infiltrate' the National Trust?

The Countryside Alliance (CA) have been attempting to put people in “key positions” within the National Trust, according to a document seen by ITV News.

The revelation, which the National Trust was “not aware of” came at a meeting of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA).

Minutes of the gathering held in April this year and chaired by Lord Benjamin Mancroft show the Countryside Alliance has been “encouraging the right people to apply for key positions” inside the National Trust.

The CA say they have “made no secret of encouraging” their supporters to stand for roles within the Trust and other organisations.

A spokesperson for the National Trust said: “We are not aware of any organisation encouraging members to apply for positions within the trust.

"We have a rigorous and robust recruitment process for all new members of staff, who must adhere to strict codes of conduct and declare any potential conflicts of interest."

The Countryside Alliance say they are a campaigning organisation and like many similar groups actively encourage their members to apply for roles from Parish Councils to Government positions, adding that: “We have made no secret of encouraging our supporters to become National Trust members, stand for the [National Trust] Council, support prospective Council candidates that are sympathetic to our campaigning issues and to vote on the motions that may have an impact on their lives or the countryside.” Many National Trust members would like to see an outright ban on hunts using National Trust land and will be concerned by the Countryside Alliance attempt to secure roles within the Trust.

In 2017 a motion to ban Trail Hunting on National Trust land was narrowly defeated but the issue is still live.

This year’s National Trust AGM had been expected to vote on a hunting ban again but the pandemic postponed the meeting until 2021.

Trail Hunting is where hounds follow an artificial scent frequently manufactured from the carcass of a fox and it is legal.

Trail hunting often leads to foxes being killed by hounds and opponents of hunting argue a ban would prevent unnecessary “accidental” killing of mammals.

Trail Hunting is suspended on National Trust land this season while police and the CPS investigate the content of webinars held by hunting’s governing body.

The National Trust currently have no date for a review of their decision to suspend trail hunting.

The MFHA meeting in April heard it was “fairly certain” that a “hostile motion” to ban hunting would be put to the National Trust membership at their AGM. National Trust member and International Wild Canid conservationist, Dr Denise Taylor, had been expected to propose the motion to ban trail hunting.

Responding to the Countryside Alliance plan to put people inside the National Trust she said: “Hunts have tried every tactic possible in order to carry on killing wildlife for sport.

"This latest tactic to infiltrate the National Trust is simply another desperate attempt to continue circumventing the law.

"The reputation of the National Trust is already damaged as a result of continuing to allow trail hunting on its lands.

"If more members knew what was really involved in trail hunting, it could see a mass exodus at a time it can ill afford to lose more members.” Like so many sports hunting has been seriously curtailed this year due to the pandemic.

It has also found itself under intense scrutiny, facing questions about how it is run and now in the spotlight once again for trying to gain a foothold inside the National Trust without the knowledge of those who run the institution.