Guest Post: Forestry England and Fox Hunting #3 | DEFRA’s Petition Response

Think fox hunting, banned by the Hunting Act 2004, is a ‘thing of the past’? Think again. Hunts have been breaking the law since the Act was passed – helped by sympathetic landowners who issue hunting licences despite a wealth of evidence proving that the terms of those licences are being routinely broken. Jack Riggall, an independent hunt monitor and anti-hunting campaigner, is writing a series of posts for us on fox hunts and Forestry England, the government department responsible for managing and promoting the nation’s forests.
Jack has written other guest posts and recorded a number of podcasts with us: search Jack Riggall.


By way of introduction, I’m an independent anti-hunting campaigner with a focus on what so-called ‘trail hunts’ are doing on public land owned and managed by government authorities. Of these, Forestry England (FE) and their policy of licensing hunting as one of the largest landowners in the UK is the most important (in my view). I’m posting a series of brief blogs here on The War on Wildlife Project throughout the current hunting season on what’s happening with Forestry England & fox hunting.

For those who aren’t aware, Forestry England allow a number of criminal fox hunts to use publicly funded forests for wildlife crime. They do this under the guise of licensing ‘trail hunting’ [a copy of their licence agreement with the Master of Foxhounds Association [MFHA] can be seen here], a false alibi for illegal hunting, with the documents created for this fake activity worth as much to Forestry England and fox hunters as the Hunting Act 2004 itself. In expecting us to believe that wildlife isn’t harmed on these so-called ‘trail hunts’, this government department expects us to ignore footage and public condemnation of the hunts in question.


On 10th September, the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) responded to my petition calling for an end to fox & hare hunting on public land, doing so on behalf of Forestry England [read their full response here]. The War on Wildlife Project has already posted about this [see the article here] and I have a few thoughts of my own to share as well.

Firstly, in defending so-called ‘trail hunting’, Defra expects us to believe it actually exists when in reality it is a farce. The examples I referred to in the petition itself were of hunts tearing foxes apart, hounds rampaging through residential areas and more. Why does Defra think these incidents happen with such regularity if hunting organisations were genuinely trying to avoid harming wildlife?

Secondly, the Kimblewick Hunt ban receives a mention. Defra holds this up as an example of Forestry England taking action, but it only shows the opposite to be true. It was hunt saboteurs that exposed the Kimblewick Hunt with footage that led to their conviction [see HSA press release dated 30/10/2019 here], and it took a concerted campaign effort to get the Kimblewick Hunt’s licence revoked. Forestry England initially gave this hunt a licence the day after they were convicted and likely would never have revoked it without being called out. In fact, not long after the Kimblewick lost their licence, Forestry England ignored repeated calls for the Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt to be banned after two of their members were convicted under the Hunting Act 2004.

The only difference between the Kimblewick Hunt and other so-called ‘trail hunts’ that Forestry England licence is that they got caught, yet both Defra & Forestry England, by repeating the spin of the Countryside Alliance, dismiss as liars the monitors, saboteurs and campaigners who regularly expose fox hunting.

It is inevitable that horrific footage of fox hunting will continue to appear through this current hunting season. I don’t think Forestry England are naïve enough to think that fox hunting isn’t still happening, but what is the threshold after which they will no longer licence any hunts at all? One hunt conviction during a season isn’t enough; neither is two, clearly. Three? Four?

We’ll have to see.



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