National Trust bans trail hunting from its land after senior huntsman was caught telling people to use sport as a ‘smokescreen’ for illegal fox hunting

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  • The charity said it had ‘carefully considered’ the issue before taking drastic measures
  • It said the recent indictment of senior hunters and a vote at the AGM were also factors.
  • But rural groups criticized the move to curb legal activities that have been going on for generations.
  • He pointed to the ‘engineered’ bullying campaign of opponents of legal hunting
  • It comes as senior hunter Mark Hankinson appealed against his sentence

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The National Trust has banned hunting on their land because of fear of the ‘reputable risk’ of allowing owners to continue with the pack.

The charity, which has been blasted for ‘waking up’ in recent months, said the issue had been ‘carefully considered’ by the board of trustees before taking drastic measures.


It said a recent indictment of a senior stalker and a vote at its annual general meeting – which included just two percent of its members – were among other factors.

Hunting and rural groups slammed the Trust for “breaking its fundamental principle” of ‘for everyone, forever’.

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He pointed to an ‘engineered’ bullying campaign by opponents of legal hunting to harass landlords to stop the game.

It comes as senior hunter Mark Hankinson appealed against his sentence for asking people to use trail hunting as a ‘smokescreen’ to kill foxes.

The charity, which has been blasted for ‘waking up’ in recent months, said the board of trustees ‘considered the issue carefully’ before taking drastic measures (file photo)

Harry Bowell, director of the National Trust for Lands and Nature, said: ‘The Board of Trustees has carefully considered the issue.

Its decision to issue another license for trail hunting is based on a variety of considerations.

“These include – but are not limited to – a loss of trust and confidence in the MFHA, which regulates trail hunting, a vote by members of the National Trust at our recent AGM, the substantial resources needed to facilitate trail hunting, and Reputation risk This activity continues on our land.’

Trail hunting is legal and sees hunters follow a scent set by hunters to follow the countryside.

It mimics a traditional fox hunt without any animals actually being chased, injured or killed.

There is sometimes a risk that a hunter may accidentally pick up on the scent of an actual fox, but they are then stopped by their owner.

The Hunting Act 2004 banned the hunting of foxes, but there have been reports of violations since then.

Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner condemned the trust’s decision to go against its motto.

Mr Bonner told MailOnline: ‘The National Trust’s decision breaks a fundamental principle.

‘Charity’ claims to be ‘for everyone, forever’, but by restricting a legal activity it has decided that it is really only for those who have been approved by its board.

‘The inability of the Trustee to differentiate between the legal use of poachers and the rule of hunting is deeply regrettable and violates the basic principle of the National Trust’s access to land for lawful activities.’

Hunting and rural groups slammed the trust for breaking its fundamental principle of 'for everyone, forever' (file photo)

Hunting and rural groups slammed the trust for breaking its fundamental principle of ‘for everyone, forever’ (file photo)

A spokesman for the Hunting Office said: ‘Today the National Trust Board has informed us of its decision not to issue licenses for trail hunting on Trust land.

‘The decision is extremely disappointing, as 98 per cent of the trust’s members did not participate in the vote to ban trail hunting at the AGM earlier this year.

‘The Board’s decision to stop a lawful and legitimate activity comes as a result of an engineered campaign by opponents of trail hunting to intimidate landowners to stop a lawful activity carried out by the rural community.

The ‘hunting reach’ has been in the lands of the National Trust for generations and the decision is against the National Trust’s motto ‘For Everyone, Forever’.

‘We hope that we can maintain an open dialogue with the Trust and do further consultations after the review that we are currently doing.’

The trust’s ban comes after a senior hunter was found guilty of asking people to use the game as a ‘smokescreen’ for illegal fox hunting.

Mark Hankinson, director of the Foxhounds Association's Masters, was found guilty in October of asking poachers to hunt for the unlawful pursuit and killing of animals as 'a sham and a fantasy'.

Mark Hankinson, director of the Foxhounds Association’s Masters, was found guilty in October of asking poachers to hunt for the unlawful pursuit and killing of animals as ‘a sham and a fantasy’.

The game on the trust’s land was suspended since November 2020 following a police investigation of webinars by hunters discussing the exercise.

Mr Hankinson, the Foxhounds Association’s director of masters, was found guilty in October of asking for the illegal pursuit and killing of animals to use trail hunting as ‘a sham and a fantasy’.

The 61-year-old was recorded for nearly 100 hunts in two training sessions in which he admitted that trail hunting was a cover to chase and kill foxes.

He was charged after footage of the webinar was obtained by victim vandalists, who leaked it to the media and police.

His barrister reported that the recording had been obtained illegally by the Hunt Sabotage Association.

But Deputy Senior District Judge Tan Ikram refused an application to exclude evidence.

Hankinson of Sherborne, Dorset, denied but pleaded guilty to encouraging illegal fox-hunting at two webinars between 11 and 13 August last year.

He was fined £1,000 in prosecution costs in addition to £2,500 in prosecution costs and a £100 surcharge last month after a trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

Judge Martin Beddoe scheduled Hankinson’s two-day appeal at Southwark Crown Court on May 5 after a short hearing.

After a conviction, at the charity’s annual general meeting, members of the National Trust voted 76,816 to 38,184 in favor of banning trail hunting on their land.

The National Trust has only six million members who would have been eligible to vote.

Those who proposed the ban said ‘overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that ‘trail hunting’ is a cover for hunting dogs’.

The Countryside Alliance campaigned against a proposal to ban trail hunting on National Trust land.

Polly Portwyn, director of campaigns for the hunt, said: ‘Today’s vote covers a small portion of the Trust’s membership and no mandate for the prohibition of legal activity carried out on National Trust lands for generations.

‘Adopting the resolution would completely undermine the Trust’s own motto: ‘For all, forever.

The principle to be followed by the Trust should be simple – legal activity should be allowed on National Trust land, as long as it is not impacting other users.

‘We set out to work with the Trust to ensure that everyone can have confidence that trail hunting activity is open, transparent and lawful.’

‘Poachers using the National Trust’s land for these legitimate activities are required to follow a strict licensing policy.

‘The Board of Trustees of the Trust has stated that they are satisfied with the implementation and compliance of the License Terms.’

Following the AGM in 2017, when the previous bid to ban trail hunting was voted down, the charity commissioned a management team to oversee the licensing process.

The trust said it has since observed both compliant and legitimate activities, but also claimed that several violations were reported.

The National Trust looks after hundreds of thousands of acres of countryside in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The move to ban trail hunting applies to land in England and Wales. Hunting is not permitted on Northern Irish Trust land.

When the trust suspended the license a year ago, there was only one trail hunting license.

Last year, in 2019/20, there were 14 licenses, and the year before that eight.

Last week, the Welsh government’s nature agency Natural Resources Wales, which looks after the countryside and forests, banned hunting on its land.

League Against Cruel Sports cautiously welcomed the ban from the Trust, but said it did not lead to the full and clear ban that the members voted for.

Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the league, said: ‘The voices of their members could not have been louder, sending a clear message to the board of trustees that enough is enough and trail hunting on trust land should be banned.

‘The board recognizes the strength it feels in its membership and in the public in general, who are more aware than ever that so-called trail hunting is used as an excuse – a smokescreen – for poaching.

‘However, the recent Hankinson ruling has shown that the hunting community cannot be trusted from top to bottom, and that foxes may be chased and killed by prey without definite restrictions. .’

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