In a highly significant moment for hunting, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has stopped all forms of trail hunting on its land and ended its agreement with the Masters of Fox Hounds Association (MFHA).
The organisation is the first big landowner to stop the practice which was recently described as a “sham” in court and a “smokescreen” for illegal fox hunting.
The board of Natural Resources Wales decided “the outcome of the court case against a senior leader of the MFHA has resulted in a loss of confidence in the organisation’s ability to ensure its activities are carried out within the law and terms of its agreement”.
NRW is one of Britain’s biggest landowners. The government-sponsored agency manages 7% of Wales’ land area which includes 311,000 acres of woodlands.
Head of Land Stewardship at NRW, Dominic Driver, added: “In order to assure ourselves properly that trail hunting wasn’t being used as a cover for illegal activity, we would have to invest in skills and resources that we currently don’t have, to police it properly.
"Given what has historically been a minor use of the land we manage, this does not represent good use of our limited resources.”
Opponents of hunting will hope that other major landowners such as Forestry England, United Utilities and the National Trust follow the lead of NRW.
National Trust members recently voted to ban trail hunting on their land but the vote has yet to be ratified by their trustees.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association say: “Landowners now realise they've been duped by the hunting community for the past 15 years. They now know that trail hunting is nothing but a smokescreen to hide illegal hunting.
"It's only a matter of time before more large landowners follow suit leading to the loss of millions of acres of land and the total demise of some hunts”.
Reacting to the decision by NRW the League Against Cruel Sports said: “The NRW board’s robust condemnation of the hunts in the wake of the recent conviction is wholly appropriate, and other major landowners that had also suspended so-called trail hunting ahead of the trial must surely be in the process of ending this activity on their land.
"Enough is enough.”
Major landowners suspended trail hunting following ITV News Exclusive broadcast of training webinars held by Hunting’s governing body the Hunting Office last year.
Leading huntsman Mark Hankinson was convicted of encouraging illegal hunting by giving hunts a “potent excuse” for breaking the law.
Rachel Evans, from the Countryside Alliance’s Director for Wales: “We are concerned that the decision taken by NRW today is a purely political one, fuelled by the Welsh Labour Government’s ongoing attack on the rural way of life.
"This decision comes after a similar ban was implemented on game shooting, an activity which is incredibly important to the Welsh rural economy. It is indeed disappointing, but not wholly surprising, that NRW have again channelled the political wishes of the Labour government in Cardiff.”
A statement from the Hunting Office said: “Today the Hunting Office was informed of Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) decision not to issue licences for trail hunting on its land. It is disappointing that NRW didn’t consult with the MFHA before making this decision however, we hope that further consultation may be possible following the review that we are currently conducting.”