Anti-hunt protests planned at National Trust sites across the UK

Anti-hunt protest

Protesters outside the National Trust AGM at the Steam Museum in Swindon last October

Campaigners against fox hunting are planning a day of protest next month at National Trust sites across the country.

The National Trust allows so-called 'trail hunts' on its land, where hounds are supposedly following a scent - but many wild animals, including foxes, hares and even deer, end up being chased and killed at these events.

Trail hunting has long been suspected of being a cover for illegal hunting by campaigners against bloodsports.

The National Trust narrowly voted to continue to allow trail hunting last October, despite an online petition gaining 175,000 signatures against the move.

During a debate in the Commons last week, Labour MP John Spellar told agriculture minister George Eustice that he "will be aware that concerns are growing that trail hunting is being used as a cover for illegal hunting".

He asked: "What action will the Government take against those who continue to hunt illegally?"

Mr Eustice insisted "the law is clear and is being enforced", adding: "Foxhunting is a matter for the police and the prosecuting authorities. Anybody who believes the law has been broken should report it to the police."

Hunt monitors, however, claim police forces across the country usually ignore their video and photographic evidence of illegal hunting.

'Trail hunting is an entirely new invention'

The League Against Cruel Sports explains the problems with trail hunting: "Before the Hunting Act 2004, there was 'traditional hunting', which involved the chasing and killing of animals, and 'drag hunting', a legitimate sport created in the 1800s which was not intended to mimic animal hunting, but instead is a sport using foxhounds to search for a non-animal scent laid by a drag pulled on a string, without the pursuit or killing of wild animals.

"Trail hunting is an entirely new invention which purports to mimic traditional hunting by following an animal-based scent trail (using fox urine, according to the hunters) which has been laid in areas where foxes or hares are likely to be.

"Crucially, those laying the trail are not meant to tell those controlling the hounds where the scent has been laid, so if the hounds end up following a live animal scent the hunt can claim that they did not know, and so 'this is why they did not try to stop them'.

"In drag hunting the trail doesn't contain animal-based scent, is never laid in areas likely to have foxes, and those controlling the hounds always know where the trail was laid. This is why in drag hunting, 'accidents' when live animals are chased are very rare, while in trail hunting they are very common."

National Dis-Trust, which campaigns against hunting on National Trust land, is working with local groups for a day of protest on February 25.

Among the dozen demonstrations already planned, National Dis-Trust will team up with Somerset Wildlife Crime for the protest at Dunster Castle; with Weymouth Animal Rights at Kingston Lacy House and Gardens; with Cheshire Against the Cull at Little Moreton Hall, Congleton; and with Grantham Against Bloodsports at Woolsthorpe Manor.

Anti-hunt protest

Protesters outside the National Trust AGM at the Steam Museum in Swindon last October

The National Trust is often asked about hunting by visitors to its Facebook and Twitter sites and responds with a link to this document, in which it states: "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.

"Any activity associated with the term 'hunting' continues to provoke strong emotions on both sides of the debate. We recognise our reforms will not satisfy everyone.

'Host the broadest range of outdoor activities on our land'

"Our charity's core aim is to look after the places in our care and that remains our top priority when considering whether to license any outdoor activity. This would be true whether it's mountain biking or a food festival.

"But our charity was also established for the nation's benefit and to provide the widest spectrum of public access and enjoyment. We therefore always look to welcome people to our places and to host the broadest range of outdoor activities on our land.

"We believe this should include trail 'hunting', where it is consistent with our conservation aims and is legally pursued."

A spokesperson for National Dis-Trust said: "Recent licensed meets of hunts like the Warwickshire Hunt have been complete with terrier men lurking in the vicinity, ready to inflict immense suffering on any foxes that escape the hounds as well as their terriers.

"Along with many hunt monitors and saboteurs, wildlife campaigners and animal rights activists across the UK, we will be highlighting the National Trust's complicity in criminal bloodsports at their properties on Sunday 25th February."

Eduardo Goncalves, Chief Executive at the League against Cruel Sports, said: "The National Trust is letting down its members by turning a blind eye to the illegal activity taking place on its land under the cover of 'trail' hunting. Rather than looking objectively at the evidence, they have sat on the fence on this issue.

"They ignored the will of their members to block the vote to ban trail hunting on their land. They claimed they would regulate and monitor trail hunting on their land, but this hasn't materialised, with several hunts already being spotted carrying on as normal.

"If they have any respect for their members or their reputation, they will take this issue more seriously than they are at present, because people don't want animals being killed for fun on land which is meant to be protected for all of us."

The National Trust has been invited to comment on the protest - and on issues raised in this article about trail hunting - and any response will be used to update this page.

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