Guest Post | Forestry England, National Trust, and Fox Hunting

Guest post by Jack Riggall. Jack is an independent hunt monitor and anti-hunting campaigner. He was written other guest posts and recorded a number of podcasts with us. Search Jack Riggall. Header image League Against Cruel Sports.

 

Forestry England, National Trust & Fox Hunting

Criminal fox hunting is widespread in the UK despite the Countryside Alliance’s claims regarding trail hunting. Jordi Casamitjana’s ‘Trail of Lies’ report for the International Fund for Animal Welfare is the best takedown of this claim, and though it was published in 2015, fox hunts haven’t changed at all even as they dwindle. Foxes [and other wild, farm & companion animals including the fox hounds] continue to be killed whilst hunts are illegally hunting.

I won’t go into why trail hunting is a false alibi for offences under the Hunting Act 2004 as readers of this blog will probably be aware of what The War on Wildlife Project has already published on illegal fox hunting, some of which is specific to the hunts that the National Trust (NT) & Forestry England (FE) licence to ‘trail hunt’ on their land [i.e.

There are campaigns for an end to hunting on land belonging to both the National Trust & FE. Here’s an overview of the behaviour of the licensed hunts, along with the current and upcoming campaigning efforts calling on both landowners to ban hunting. Feel free to ask yourself whilst reading whether you think these so-called ‘trail hunts’ should be granted licences to hunt on government and charity-owned land.

National Trust

When the two most recent hunting seasons are compared, licensed hunting on National Trust land has dwindled by almost two thirds. Eleven licences were granted in the 2019-20 hunting season compared with 25 in the 2018-29 hunting season. Three of those eleven were withdrawn or cancelled during the season, and of the remaining eight, some have cancelled the majority of their dates or not used Trust land on dates when hunt saboteurs were present.

The Monmouthshire Hunt & the West Somerset Hunt, for example, both had four dates on their licences and both cancelled three of them. The Old Berkshire Hunt were licensed for eight dates, cancelled four of them, and reportedly didn’t bother using their licensed area on the Buscot & Coleshill Estates when accompanied by Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch on 10th February 2020.

Fox hunts choosing not to apply for as many licences as last season and hunts avoiding the land they have permission to use when faced with cameras are both happening for the same reason, in my opinion – to avoid being filmed breaking the law and/or breaking their licence terms on Trust land, or to avoid having to pretend to follow a scent trail.

 

Here’s a little more information on some of the hunts using Trust land and what they’ve been up to since last Autumn.

Avon Vale Hunt

The Avon Vale Hunt aren’t licensed for so-called ‘trail hunting’ on Trust land, but they do meet at Lacock, a village owned by the Trust, every year for their Boxing Day hunt. This isn’t advertised on the Trust’s list of licensed ‘trail hunts’, instead being managed under an activity licence [like the Warwickshire Hunt’s Boxing Day hunt has been for Upton House until last year – see below]. A little over a week after using Lacock as their venue, this hunt showed their true colours when terriermen* attempted to attack Bath Hunt Saboteurs’ vehicle whilst it was being driven – which was then reported on by the Daily Mail, London Economic, Somerset Live & Yahoo News all on 7th January 2020 [articles below]. Whether the Trust continues to allow this aggressive group to use their land is something we’ll see later in the year.

07/01/2020, Daily Mail, ‘Shocking Moment Masked Thugs On Quad Bike Chase Saboteurs From Hunt While Screaming Abuse At Them… Seconds After A Horseman Rode Past And Gave The Chilling Warning ‘Your Worst Nightmare’s Just Turned Up

07/01/2020, Yahoo News, ‘Terrifying Footage Shows Pro-Hunt Masked “Thugs” Chase Off Hunt Saboteurs On A Quad Bike – Thumping The Side Of Their Land Rover As They Tried To Drive Off

07/01/2020, London Economic, ‘Terrifying Footage Shows Pro-Hunt Masked “Thugs” Chase Off Hunt Saboteurs On A Quad Bike

07/01/2020, Somerset Live, ‘The Terrifying Moment Pro-Hunt ‘Thugs’ Attack & Chase Off Hunt Saboteurs

* ‘Terrier men have no place in a trail huntand are explicitly prohibited under our licence conditions.’ – National Trust, Trail Hunting FAQs.

 

Warwickshire Hunt

The Warwickshire Hunt had their licence removed from the National Trust’s website on 16th December 2019, after exposure from West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs regularly landed them in the press [see below for articles up to the date that their licence was removed*] along with campaign pressure from Warwickshire Badger Group and League Against Cruel Sports [LACS]. Their Boxing Day meet, traditionally held at the Trust’s Upton House under an activity licence [meaning it doesn’t appear on the Trust’s website at all], was held elsewhere, reportedly due to maintenance works being undertaken at Upton. Hopefully that’s the end of this hunt using Trust land for good, but we’ll see. West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs lead the wider campaign against this hunt so please support them by visiting their page on Facebook.

16/12/2019, The Courier, ‘’Warwickshire Hunt Should Not Be Taking Hounds Out If They Have No Control’ Says Saboteur Group After Pack Ran Amok Through Village

16/12/2019, Banbury Guardian, ‘’Hunt Should Not Be Taking Hounds Out If They Have No Control’ Says Saboteur Group

03/12/2019, Leamington Observor, ‘Call For Banning Of Trail Hunting On National Trust Properties Following ‘Chaos’ At Warwickshire Hunt

02/12/2019, Banbury Guardian, ‘Row Erupts Over Hunt Incident When Rhea Escapes From Avon Dassett Field As Hounds ‘Follow Fox’

28/11/2019, Metro, ‘Huntsman Chased Up & Down Road By Enormous Flightless Bird

* Media coverage subsequent to the hunt losing its licence showed the hunt killing foxes, as well as the death of a hound on a railway line on New Year’s Day, among other incidents covered in 13 media articles.

 

Western Hunt

The Western Hunt are licensed for hunting on Trust land on the west coast of Cornwall, but this season they have been joined for the first time by the newly formed West Cornwall Hunt Saboteurs. After joining them in the field this season, photojournalist Greg Martin wrote for Cornwall Live on 1st March 2020 that: ’For 199 years the Western Hunt were able to go about their business on the moors of West Cornwall without scrutiny, but since September of last year, there have been detailed reports of their activity on the West Cornwall Hunt Saboteurs Facebook page after every hunt.’ – full article here.

This hunt were given six hunting dates by the Trust [here]. For reasons unknown, 14th December 2019 was cancelled and then 28th March 2020 was cancelled after the Hunting Office closed the hunting season early due to the coronavirus. but their remaining fiur dates [18th January, 8th & 22nd February and 14th March 2020], they hunted across Trust land every time.

In the opinion of West Cornwall Hunt Saboteurs: ‘Due to the vast area it is extremely difficult to follow their movements but we have managed to monitor effectively. On no occasion, except the last feeble pretence, have we seen any attempt to lay a trail. Charlie Watts recently stated in a press interview that it is near impossible to train hounds to follow a non-animal scent but somehow NT claim that is what happens. According to NT you may contact the hunt for any info about the dates they are accessing this land and where they will be but to date no answer has been received by anyone that has. Cornwall Wildlife Trust recently banned this hunt from going near their land after seeing evidence of trespass and actively hunting on their land.

Hunt Trespass

Hunts continuing to pursue wildlife across Trust land whether they have permission to or not is nothing new. Hounds Off & Somerset Wildlife Crime state in a report on the Quantock Staghounds they produced that they monitored 27/63 of the Quantock Staghounds’ dates during the 2018-19 hunting season and of those 27, eight included trespassing on Trust land. For one of those eight [18th March 2019] District Judge David Taylor later found at Taunton Vale Magistrates Court that illegal hunting had taken place on Trust land [see this League Against Cruel Sports news release from 4th February 2020 and footage of this incident here]. For the season that’s just finished, they’ve thankfully been more careful around Trust land. This along with coronavirus bringing the season to an early finish [the Quantock Staghounds normally hunt until the end of April], means less trespass and fewer wild animals being hunted on & across Trust land.

The United Pack & the South Shropshire Hunt were both formerly licensed for hunting on the Trust’s Long Mynd in Shropshire. No longer having licences hasn’t stopped them though, and they have arrogantly continued to hunt on the site throughout the 2019-20 season on a number of occasions – most recently on 3rd March 2020 when members of the public contacted Shropshire Monitors. More information on these two hunts being effectively banned from Long Mynd, and their repeated trespass, can be found here.

For the past two hunting seasons, none of the six fell packs in Cumbria have had licences for hunting on Trust land, yet leading up to the Trust’s AGM vote on stopping hunting for good, a Guardian article published on 10th September 2017 included a quote from joint master of the Quorn Hunt Joss Hanbury talking about what a hunting ban on Trust land would mean: ‘The Fell hunts are the ones which would be really impacted and some of them would almost have to stop hunting probably.’- full article here.

And yet, despite not having licences for the previous two seasons, none of them have stopped hunting at all; people can perhaps guess what those fell packs have been doing across Trust land for all that time.

 

National Trust: 2020 AGM Resolution

In 2017, at the Trust’s AGM, campaigners from a range of groups fought for a hunting ban on Trust land. It lost by 299 votes. Since then the amount of licences that have been applied for/granted has plummeted – from the sixty-seven hunts of the 2016-17 hunting season to the eight today that are barely being used.

You wouldn’t know this from the deluded Countryside Alliance though, whose 19th March 2020 newsletter to their members stated ‘Hunts have been successfully hunting under licence on National Trust land since the resolution was defeated…’. Later this year, to make sure the Trust finally turns it’s back on fox hunting, National Trust members will be campaigning in support of another resolution calling for a hunting ban.

National Trust members are once again putting forward a motion to ban hunting from National Trust land. ‘Trail’ hunting is nothing more than a cover for illegal hunting, and for an otherwise prestigious land owner like the National Trust to grant access for this activity is shameful. We support the members in their plight to ban ‘trail’ hunting and will be behind them every step of the way.” – League Against Cruel Sports [LACS] Head of Campaigns, Nick Weston.

To stay updated about this campaign you can subscribe to news from LACS here.

 

Forestry England

For the first time, FE have started publishing the meets of the fox hunts they licence for hunting on public land [see here]. It’s led to a slight drop in the number of hunts being licensed – thirty-four this season, down from thirty-five last season. One hunt down is a slow start, but more will inevitably follow just as they did with the Trust, and during the season at least one hunt lost its licence. Others continue to be licensed despite being connected to multiple convictions under the Hunting Act 2004.

The Trust banned terriermen as part of its licence conditions, clearly showing that they know about the criminal nature of the hunting organisations they are giving licences to, but FE have made no such licence condition for the new 2019-21 licence even though there’s crossover with the hunts that both organisations licence. The Chiddingfold, Leconfield & Cowdray Hunt and the Vale of White Horse Hunt have licences for ‘trail hunting’ on land belonging to both the Trust & FE, so if the Trust need to make it clear to these two hunts that they can’t bring their terriermen with them, why hasn’t FE done so as well?

 

Here’s just a little information on three hunts that FE gave licences to this season.

Kimblewick Hunt

On 30th October 2019, two terriermen from the Kimblewick Hunt were convicted under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 at Oxford Magistrates Court for cruelty to a fox that was thrown out to be hunted by hounds [the Hunt Saboteurs Association [HSA] footage that led to this conviction can be seen here]. On 31st October 2019, FE’s website was updated to show the Kimblewick Hunt were scheduled to hunt that day, and 5 other dates, with FE seemingly oblivious to this conviction.

Thanks to subsequent campaigning from Wild Mammal Persecution UK & Peterborough Hunt Saboteurs the Forestry Commission’s Board of Commissioners replied to myself and everybody else that had contacted them about this hunt’s criminal nature with the following message on 8th November 2019:

The Kimblewick Hunt’s licence was then listed as withdrawn on FE’s website on 9th December 2019. Another hunt down! I think FE are to be commended for doing the right thing in this instance. However, their later choice to ignore the conviction of Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt members under the Hunting Act 2004 and give them a ‘trail hunting’ licence anyway was deeply disappointing.

 

Ludlow Hunt

The Ludlow Hunt were given a ‘trail hunting’ licence for 5 dates for FE land. After being monitored on 14th November 2019 on a day when they had a licence to ‘trail hunt’ through Aston Coppice & Gatley Coppice, they immediately requested the removal of all of their subsequent dates [10th December 2019, 7th January & 27th February 2020] from FE’s website, which vanished the next day, obviously unwilling to face the scrutiny of being recorded for obvious reasons.

Despite this they hunted across Gatley Coppice again on 27th February 2020 after meeting at Gatley Park, belonging to Phillip Dunne [the Tory MP for Ludlow]. Disappointingly, FE have accepted the hunt’s explanation of ‘merely going in to retrieve their hounds’, but at least it’s unlikely that this hunt will be licensed again.

 

Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt

The Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt were again connected to criminal convictions under the Hunting Act 2004 when hunt members were convicted in November 2019. FE were again oblivious to this conviction, but this time when people wrote in rather than take responsibility as they had previously done with the Kimblewick Hunt, the Board of Commissioners said it was nothing to do with them stating simply that: ‘Decisions on operational issues are made at the appropriate level in the Forestry England management and governance structures.’ – see here.

This hunt were then licensed to ‘trail hunt’ on FE’s land on 11th, 18th & 22nd February 2020, with FE ignoring their conviction.

Even with a recent conviction this hunt couldn’t help themselves and their behaviour on 5th February ended up in the press [see ‘Derby Woman Claims Unruly Hounds Were On Trail Of Fox Which Came To Her Door’ and ‘Neighbours Terrified As ’10 To 15’ Dogs Run Riot In Derby Street’]. Hopefully FE reflect on this and change their mind prior to the next season beginning, but then again, the Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt were convicted in 2011 and continued to be licensed by the Forestry Commission (despite the Trust banning them from their land following campaigning from Derby Hunt Saboteurs [see here]).

An FoI I submitted last year revealed that FE were already aware of instances of the Meynell hounds hunting through people’s gardens [from: 3 (i) minutes of a meeting between FE and the Master of Fox Hounds Association [MFHA] on 15th August 2019 – see below]. How many convictions for illegal hunting and evidence of hunting through people’s gardens does a government department need before refusing a ‘trail hunting’ licence application?

 

Petition to Ban Hunting on Forestry England’s Land

On 16th March, a petition I’d submitted that callied on Forestry England to stop giving out licences for so-called ‘trail hunting’ was published by the UK Petitions Committee. It’s not the first time I’ve tried, and I’m not the first to have tried either. A previous petition I wrote to call for a hunting ban on Forestry Commission’s land gained 29,876 signatures and finished on 18th March 2019 [here]. Another petition, which I didn’t write, ended in 2016 with 2,163 signatures [here].

Throughout the 2019-20 hunting season, I know of seventy articles & blog posts that covered the behaviour of the hunts that FE chose to give licences to. They ranged from convictions under the Hunting Act 2004 [here], a conviction under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 [here], convictions under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 [here], fox hounds rampaging through gardens after a fox [here], fox hunters admitting their hounds had killed a fox [here], fox hunters attacking hunt saboteurs [here] and fox hunts trespassing across wildlife sanctuaries [here].

When FE say that what they’re doing is giving licences for the legal activity of ‘trail hunting’, they are insulting our intelligence. It’s time that this government department stops giving out these sham licences and those that agree can sign my petition [and hopefully share it to everyone they know, too!]. It ends on 16th September 2020 – please do all you can to support it before then: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/300634.

 

 

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Thankyou.