What the National Trust trail hunting vote really means

The motion to ban trail hunting on National Trust land was narrowly defeated at the organisation’s annual conference on Saturday, leading to members up and down the country threatening to cancel their memberships.

The outcome of Saturday’s vote at the National Trust’s Annual General Meeting came as a devastating shock to those who had campaigned tirelessly to ban so called trail hunting on the organisation’s land. The motion, which was tabled by Helen Beynon, a National Trust member, sought to halt the issuing of licences for trail hunting on trust land following countless reports across the country of breaches in animal welfare laws. Sadly, the National Trust advised its members to vote against this motion, choosing to buckle under the pressure of the hunting lobby and pro-bloodsport groups like the Countryside Alliance. In an incredibly close vote the motion actually received the most votes (28,629) verses those against the motion (27,525) but unfortunately was defeated after the inclusion of 3,460 proxy votes which were authorised to be used at the discretion of other members and trust’s board of trustees. The final result meant that the motion failed by just 299 votes, after the National Trust board itself used proxy votes to vote against the ban.

Speaking to the Guardian, Helen Beynon said: “I believe the only reason our motion has failed is because most National Trust members haven’t seen it with their own eyes. If they’d have seen what I’ve seen, then I have no doubt they would have voted with us.

“I was surprised that, despite all the evidence available to the trustees, and the fact that we were given no opportunity to respond to the terms of any new licence, they advised members to vote against our proposal. They have led people to believe that there is no problem. But there is a problem – hunts will now be able to continue their barbaric hobby on land which is meant to be protected for people and animals. It’s disgraceful, and the trust should be ashamed.

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Although many pro-hunting lobbyists claim that trail hunting is a harmless countryside activity, huge amounts of evidence shows that the contrary is actually true. Started in response to the hunting ban which came into effect in 2005, trail hunting has been shown time and time again to be nothing more than an arbitrary term for continued fox hunting to hide behind. In theory trail hunting is an evolution of drag hunting which involves placing real fox scents on a series of trails across a certain area for hounds to track. In reality this method results in the packs of dogs used on the hunt often intercepting the path of actual foxes – and this is no accident. Naturally this leads to foxes being killed by dogs, despite the ban, but is practically impossible to police under current laws as hunts claim that the deaths are accidental. Evidence produced as a result of undercover reports show that trail hunts up and down the country are breaking the law on a regular basis. In fact, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) state on their website: “IFAW hasn’t monitored every hunt but we suspect that most of those that we have monitored have indeed broken the law on several occasions. We did not always manage to persuade the police to investigate, even if we believed that there was enough evidence. We have not seen any evidence that supports the hypothesis that most hunts obey the law at all times.”

The fact is, trail hunting is nothing more than a guise for fox hunting to continue despite the ban which is supported by the vast majority of the country. Anyone that speaks out against hunting, however, is labelled a “townie” by pro-hunting groups and told to stay out of countryside affairs. Of course this dismissal of our opinions overlooks two crucial factors; firstly that many of us who oppose hunting either grew up in or live in the countryside; and secondly, regardless of where we may live, residents of the countryside are not the sole decision makers when it comes to hunting down and slaughtering local wildlife. Residents of towns and cities have every right to be outraged when groups are found to be circumventing the law and using illegal means to hunt and kill foxes, deer or any other animal. Just as we all share in the outrage when lions and rhinos are hunted for sport on the African plains – we don’t simply shrug our shoulders and accept that it’s none of our business; we fight it, we campaign against it and we don’t stop until something changes.

The National Trust have demonstrated leading up to this vote that they are a pro-hunting organisation. Despite overwhelming evidence clearly showing the cruelty inflicted upon British wildlife and the dogs used in the hunts, the National Trust advised their members – many of whom were unaware of the true nature of trail hunting – to vote against the motion to ban hunting on their land. As the largest landowner in the UK, the National Trust had it within their power to put a stop to the majority of trail hunts taking place across the country, instead they chose to back the pro-hunting fraternity and will no doubt continue to do so. In the end, rather than allowing the decision of the members to dictate whether or not trail hunting should be banned on their land, the National Trust board used the desperate measure of voting against the ban themselves using proxy votes they were authorised to use at their discretion. This is what decided the final result of the vote, and confirmed once and for all to many thousands of National Trust members that the organisation, rather than remaining impartial, is actually in favour of continued hunting.

So what’s next? As The League Against Cruel Sports said in response to the result, this is “a massive step backward for justice and a shot in the arm for cruelty”, yet this is the result that the National Trust board itself wanted. As members we should be under no illusion as to what sort of organisation we are paying money to be affiliated with. No longer can the National Trust pretend to be concerned with protecting the countryside and wildlife conservation, so long as the blood money they receive from organised hunts and pro-hunting donors continues to affect how they run their organisation.

For many this vote spells the end of their membership to the National Trust. What sort of effect this will have remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the National Trust have shown their hand, and thousands of members will never see them in the same light again.

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22 thoughts on “What the National Trust trail hunting vote really means

  1. Rose says:

    I will no longer visit National Trust properties.

  2. Diane Hughes says:

    Some years ago when the issue of hunting on MY land was first raised I cancelled my membership and joined the Scottish NT.
    Is this an option?

  3. Diane Hughes says:

    Not MY land but NT Land

  4. Alan Gilbert says:

    I am a Life Member of the National Trust and I voted for the ban as did my wife, my daughter was one of the many LACS supporters at the AGM.

    I am not anti trail hunts per se, but I do feel that the LACS should be pressurising the government to ban the use of fox scents to train hounds, aniseed is a far more effective scent for dogs to follow.

  5. David says:

    Good article Greg. I’ve just cancelled our family membership and explained why. It probably won’t surprise you that the chap at the other end of the line was full of fibs and lies about both hunting and the National Trust’s position in it. They will not get another penny from our family until their antiquated board stop supporting such cruel and outdated practices.

    Keep up the fight.

  6. robert ian graham says:

    Respect to you sir

  7. Greg Dundee says:

    Thanks David. I’m glad to see that members are standing up against the result of this vote. I emailed the national trust on Sunday morning to cancel mine and my partner’s memberships – I was very clear in explaining why and I am now awaiting a response.

  8. Carole says:

    I am sick of laws being broken by these so called humans and nothing done to stop it. The Police Commissioner should make sure this is stopped I am sure if I broke the law I would be brought to justice.
    I always thought wildlife were protected on National Trust land.

  9. Thomas Wright says:

    I have no desire to visit a National Trust property ever again .Perchance that I may witness a defenceless animal being torn to shreds by bloodthirsty savages. I have cancelled my membership forthwith,and will only reinstate it when this gutless hypocritical organisation comes to it’s senses.

  10. L Curtin says:

    I will not renew my nt membership..

  11. Joyce says:

    I asked to cancel my membership and was told that I would have to pay what I owe in direct debits until June next year!

  12. Greg Dundee says:

    Hi Joyce. You should be able to cancel your direct debit directly with your bank – you do not need the National Trust’s permission. Check out their terms here https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/monthly-payment-terms which simply state if you fail to pay your monthly fee they will terminate your membership.

  13. Katy says:

    Why can’t the dogs be muzzled? Everyone’s a winner!

  14. Beth Orwin says:

    I do not want to belong to an organisation that thinks it is ok to hunt and kill our wildlife for fun so I am resigning and I hope other members will leave too as a protest.

  15. Malcolm Cowburn says:

    I am struggling to develop a stategic response to this situation. My knee jerk response is to cancel my membership and have nothing further to do with this Landowners’ club. However, this would mean that in 3 years time their position would be stronger. My feeling is that I should resign my membership now, and rejoin in 2 years time, if there is going to be another vote. There must be strength in numbers to defeat the pro-hunting lobby, mass resignations without a longer term strategy could be a self-defeating gesture.

  16. Greg Dundee says:

    That’s not a bad idea Malcolm. I think mass resignations at this stage are important as it’s vital we hit the organisation where it hurts. That said, we should definitely monitor the situation carefully and yes, perhaps even consider rejoining at a later stage to cast votes if the opportunity arises.

  17. Sue Benjamins says:

    It is disgusting that the Board used proxy votes to go against majority voters wishes. What are these so called proxy votes anyway and why are they part of the equation? THINK AGAIN NT. This is not what you should be standing for — re run the vote and next time Board should not vote at all.

  18. I’m going to do as Malcolm suggests …. leave now (giving the clear reason) and rejoin in two years if it looks like we will be voting again. Linda

  19. Roger Fox says:

    I have cancelled my direct debit and emailed the Trust advising I am cancelling my membership.
    Their reply : “Dear Mr Fox

    Thank you for your reply.

    I’m sorry to hear you wish to cancel your membership.

    I’ve closed it from the end of January, your old card is valid until then.

    Our mailing lists are compiled in advance so you may receive some mail over the next few months.

    Thank you for your past support.”

    They seem to be a bit nonplussed really. I hope its hurting them.

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