National Trust faces anti-hunt protests

National Trust AGM

Campaigners against fox hunting are holding protests on Sunday 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 - but the National Trust used proxy votes to narrowly defeat a motion to ban it last October, despite an online petition gaining 175,000 signatures in support of the move.

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 17 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. Full list of locations here.

'Complicity in criminal bloodsports'

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."

The National Trust, explaining its position on trail hunting here, insisted it "does not allow illegal hunting on its land, and anyone who suspects illegal activity should report it to the police".

A spokesperson added: "We have been carefully listening to both sides of a highly polarised and passionate debate around trail hunting for years.

Cover for illegal hunting

"People have the legal right to organise demonstrations and express their views. We accept these protests on our land, provided they are respectful and do not interfere with conservation or access for our visitors."

There was no comment, however, on claims that trail hunting is a cover for illegal hunting, as acknowledged during a debate in the Commons last month.

Followers of the National Trust's Twitter account bombard the charity daily with objections to hunting, leaving comments on most of the photographs it tweets.

Hunt monitors allege police forces across the country usually ignore their video and photographic evidence of illegal hunting. In Cheshire, a review of how police handle reports of illegal hunting is under way after an intervention by Mike Amesbury, MP for Weaver Vale.

'Ignored the will of their members'

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."

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