National Trust

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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