fox hunting

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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“Insufficient evidence”: Misleading the way on fox hunting

In February this year, news broke of an alleged assault by a Surrey Union Hunt member against a member of Guildford Hunt Saboteurs. The assault, which was captured on camera, shows Mrs Lulu Hutley whipping an activist who is pinned against a fence at a hunt in Bramley. Despite this video having been submitted to the authorities, it was announced yesterday that Surrey Police have dropped their investigation, citing “insufficient evidence” as their reason.

The words “insufficient evidence”, or ones similar to them, are heard far too often when it comes to fox hunting. Unfortunately, the evidence seems to be disproportionately insufficient when hunt members assault saboteurs, rather than when the roles are apparently reversed.

It’s no surprise, and not unreasonable, that many people question whether a systemic bias against hunt saboteurs exists within the police community. In certain rural areas where local Conservative authorities are so often propped up by pro-hunting lobbyists, is it possible that a police bias is being used as a weapon to allow illegal hunting to continue?

Of course, it’s not just assaults on hunt saboteurs that seem to go unpunished. Up and down the country activists record and submit footage of foxes being killed by hounds and yet over and over we hear of charges against those responsible being dropped. Due to “insufficient evidence”.

In 2015 Warwickshire Police claimed that there was “not enough evidence” to prosecute members of the Atherstone Hunt. This was despite video footage of 20 of the hunt’s hounds killing a fox. Later evidence submitted included witness statements and the Atherstone Hunt itself admitting to killing the fox. If this is considered “insufficient evidence”, then how do we possibly enforce the hunting ban?

The fact is, for the most part, we don’t. Since the ban came into force in February 2005, there have been 430 successful prosecutions. However, the majority of these have been against poachers, as most police forces are more keen to investigate poaching rather than hunting by organised groups. Chief Executive of pro-hunting group the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, claims that these figures prove that the ban doesn’t work. Going further than that, Mr Bonner calls for the ban to be repealed in order for police to concentrate their time on more urgent matters. Unfortunately there is some truth in the statement that the ban is failing to lead to convictions. This, however, is no reason to consider repealing a ban that between 84% and 90% of the country support.

Across the country, and every week, activist and saboteur groups submit videos to the police of foxes being killed during illegal hunts. The International Fund for Animal Welfare 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.”

Despite this constant stream of evidence, there seems to be an inadequately disproportional amount of convictions. Whilst hunt saboteurs are often labelled as extremists for attempting to ensure the law is upheld, the police go unquestioned for failing to clamp down on illegal hunting activities. The question eventually has to be asked; are the police siding with the hunters, or are they simply unable to enforce the law?

The problem with the hunting act is not the law itself, but the loopholes that exist within it. A direct response by pro-hunting groups to the implementing of the hunting ban was the creation of “trail hunting”. This adaption of traditional drag hunting entails placing real fox scents on a series of trails across a certain area. By using real fox scents the hunt groups increase the chances of a fox “accidentally” being caught, whilst simultaneously creating an alibi to shift any blame from the hunt members themselves.

Loopholes such as these make it almost impossible for the police to bring hunt members to justice, and give groups like the Countryside Alliance fuel to call the ban a waste of resources. However, repealing the ban is not the answer; strengthening it is. By amending the law to include a recklessness clause, authorities could create a situation in which “trail hunting” was no longer an acceptable excuse for foxes being killed. In addition, the introduction of custodial sentences to coincide with other wildlife crime legislation is vital.

IFAW explain on their website: “After 10 years in operation any law would benefit from a tightening and improvement, and the Hunting Act is not an exception. Although as a law the Hunting Act may be working, the problem is that it has not been properly enforced, so we believe that amendments that improve enforcement are needed.”

Whatever direction the country takes after the upcoming general election, it’s crucial that we advocate for the hunting ban that the vast majority of us support to be reinforced. It’s time to end the biased pro-hunting narrative that labels hard working activists as thugs and extremists. It’s time to tighten the law on hunting with dogs, and clamp down on illegal hunts by closing easily exploited loopholes. It’s time to stand together as a country and make sure that the hunting act becomes something more than just words on paper. Whatever happens, it’s time to stop pretending that we successfully banned fox hunting in 2005, and start working on actually doing so in 2017.

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Anti hunting march 2017: A nation united in compassion

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Anti hunting march 2017: A nation united in compassion

On Monday the 29th of May, activists, campaigners and concerned citizens from all over the country gathered in London with a shared objective. In response to the recent release of the Conservative manifesto, in which a free vote on hunting with hounds was promised, over two thousand people marched on Downing Street to make their voices heard. The message was loud and the message was clear: there is no place for fox hunting, or any other form of hunting with hounds, in a modern, progressive Britain.

Protesters with banners: keep the hunting ban

As someone who strongly opposes cruelty to animals I travelled to London specifically to take part in this event, and to lend my voice to the cause. Although just over two thousand of us were in attendance, we marched with the backing of millions. At least 84% of the country’s citizens support the ban on hunting with hounds, with a recent poll putting this figure at 90%. In a country divided on so many issues, and reeling from a referendum that literally divided the population in half, one thing is clear: the nation stands together on fox hunting.

Anti hunting protesters leaving Cavendish Square

The absolute opposition our nation has to repealing the ban was not only apparent by the turnout for the demonstration itself, but the response of the public who watched the procession; significant numbers of whom cheered and clapped as the protesters passed them by.

Anti hunting protesters in London centre

Animal lives should never be used as political weaponry, but in this instance they have been and the people are not happy. At the risk of alienating the 70% of Tory voters who support the hunting ban, Theresa May has gambled her election campaign on appeasing the pro-hunting lobbyists. In employing this self-serving tactic May has declared war on animal rights, and those who fight to protect them.

The Labour Party slogan throughout this campaign has been “For the many, not the few”. I find this especially poignant as I reflect on the possibility of Theresa May heading a government which seeks to overrule the will of the many, simply to please the very few. Thanks to Theresa May, a vote for the Conservatives is now a vote to repeal the ban on hunting foxes, hares and deer with hounds; it is a vote to continue a wildly unsuccessful badger culling campaign; and it is a vote to continue the UK ivory trade, something David Cameron had previously promised to ban. For those who consider animal rights a critical part of our society’s moral code, Theresa May’s manifesto has made the Tories impossible to vote for.

As a nation we proudly assert our place on the world stage as a society of animal lovers. We regard with contempt events such as Yulin dog meat festival, and the annual whale slaughter in the Faroe islands. We’re far from perfect in this country, and as a vegan I know we have a long way to go when it comes to animal rights. But Monday’s event served to remind me that when we Brits see cruelty we oppose it, and we act on it.

On Monday we delivered a message, but on June 8th we have the opportunity to deliver an even more powerful one; one that changes the shape of British politics and shows future candidates that even at our most divided, on protecting our wildlife we are united.

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