National Trust members vote to ban trail hunting on their land

ITV News Reporter Cari Davies explains why National Trust members have voted to end the lawful activity on their land

Members of the National Trust have voted to ban trail hunting on their land.

Trail hunting, where riders and hounds follow a scent, had already been suspended on the Trust's land over concerns the lawful activity is being used as a “smokescreen” for chasing and killing foxes.

It followed a report by ITV News about the content of webinars hosted by the Hunting Office.

Following our investigation, one of Britain’s leading huntsmen was found guilty of encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence under the Hunting Act.

Mark Hankinson was a director of the Hunting Office that runs the sport. He was caught in the leaked online training webinar telling hunts how to hunt illegally.

Mark Hankinson was convicted for giving a masterclass on how to break the Hunting Act - he has now had his conviction overturned Credit: ITV News

On Saturday, National Trust members voted on a resolution proposed by conservationist and member Dr Denise Taylor.

It said that "evidence comprehensively shows that illegal hunting continues to take place under the guise of ‘trail hunting’ by hunts who also carry out activities on National Trust land".

A total of 76,816 votes were cast for the motion, with 38,184 votes against and 18,047 abstentions.

The results of the vote are not binding, but the board of trustees is expected to consider the outcome following Saturday’s annual general meeting.

Demonstrators from the League Against Cruel Sports gathered outside Harrogate Convention Centre in North Yorkshire as the event was being held, to show their support for the banning proposal.

Andy Knott, chief executive for the group, said: "Enough is enough. Now the membership has voted to permanently end it, we must insist the National Trust’s trustees listen and act. The trust must ban ‘trail’ hunting on its land for good. Other landowners should take note and immediately follow suit."

Mr Knott continued: "The Hunting Act needs to be strengthened and law-breaking properly punished. Trail hunting is nothing but a smokescreen for illegal fox hunting. We know and have been saying this for years, the National Trust members know it, and now the courts know it too.

"Those who enable the smokescreen of trail hunting to take place should look again and ask themselves whether they want to be complicit in illegal activity.

"It is time for every other landowner, including the Ministry of Defence and Defra to see this activity for what it is and ban the illegal hunting of animals on their property."

The League Against Cruel Sports celebrates the vote to ban hunting on National Trust land. Credit: The League Against Cruel Sports

Following the vote in favour of a ban, the Hunt Saboteurs Association said it was "delighted," but called for other organisations to follow suit.

Lee Moon, spokesperson for the group, said: "We're delighted that the National Trust and its members have finally made the right decision and banned hunting from their land.

"Following the Hunting Office webinar expose and Mark Hankinson's conviction they really had little option but to distance themselves from the criminal countryside gangs that hunts have become.

"The webinars contained blatant admissions of widespread illegal hunting and the use of smokescreens to confuse the public. Any respectable landowner knows their reputation will be forever tarnished if they don't permanently distance themselves from the hunting community."

The group called for "other corporate landowners including Forestry England, United Utilities, the various National Parks and the Ministry of Defence to also permanently ban hunting."

Responding to the vote, the Countryside Alliance, who campaigned against the motion, said the Trust is under no obligation to mandate the vote.

Polly Portwin, Director of the group, said: "Today’s vote involved a tiny proportion of the Trust’s membership and is absolutely no mandate for prohibition of a legal activity which has been carried out on National Trust land for generations.

"Adopting the motion would totally undermine the Trust’s own motto: ‘for everyone, for ever.'

"The principle the Trust follows should be simple – legal activity should be allowed on National Trust land as long as it is not impacting on other users. We remain ready to work with the Trust to ensure that everyone can have confidence that trail hunting activity is open, transparent and legitimate.

"Hunts who use National Trust land for these lawful activities are required to comply with a strict licensing policy. The Trust’s Board of Trustees have stated they are satisfied with the implementation of, and the compliance with, the licensing conditions."