Last October the National Trust narrowly voted to continue licensing ‘trail hunting’ on its properties, by 30,985 to 30,686 votes, the narrow margin due to the NT Board using thousands of ‘discretionary’ votes in favour of the hunts.
Yet in December, after Theresa May had said she wanted parliament to vote on repealing the 2004 Hunting Act, a poll showed that 85% of the public (and that includes 81% of rural people) do not want the Act repealed. In fact they don’t support any kind of hunting with dogs.
To dodge round the Act, hunts invented something called trail hunting. This is not to be confused with drag hunting, an old and respected activity that avoids the sport of hunting and killing wild animals. Trail hunting, officially, is laying a scent for foxhounds to find and follow. This supposedly ‘allows’ the hounds to be ‘worked’ without finding and killing a fox.
Originally the hunts claimed they were using foxes’ urine, imported from the US, although there has only been one recorded (licensed) import since the Act was implemented. As quoted by Jordi Casamitjana, when forensic canine behaviourist Ian McParland was asked, “Is fox urine the right scent”, McParland replied:
“The scent of the live animal and that of its urine will undoubtedly carry many of the same chemical markers… It would be foolhardy to use fox urine and not expect the hounds to also follow live foxes.”
Some hunts now say they are using a British-produced chemical mixture as the scent. But whoever or wherever these British manufacturers are, they can’t be found on the internet. And unless hunts produce invoices and receipts for the purchase of scents used for trail hunting, there is no real proof that that they are trail hunting. Nor indeed is there any proof that they are training hounds to follow a scent markedly different to the scent of a fox.
As Eduardo Goncalves of the League Against Cruel Sports says, ‘Reports by monitors from more than 10 years watching every hunt in the country suggest that hunts don’t bother to even pretend to lay a trail other than on rare occasions.’
Instead, across the country hunt saboteurs, monitors and the public have witnessed and filmed illegal hunting. Dorset hunts kill foxes on a regular basis and then use the trail hunting excuse: “An unfortunate accident; once the hounds flush out a fox we can’t stop them.” They don’t mention foxes illegally dug out of earths and released in front of the hounds, nor badger sett holes regularly blocked (also illegal) to prevent foxes from taking cover.
The National Trust’s position on trail hunting rests partly on the ruling that they will not allow terrier men and their quad bikes to participate in the hunting, they being the ones who dig out foxes and block the setts. How have the hunts got round that one? With a simple measure of re-branding.
Terrier men are now renamed as ‘countrymen’ that do not have terriers with them, even though they often do. They are there to ‘assist’ the hunts and repair any damage caused by the hunt. Presumably that means replacing the fencing that the terrier men (sorry – countrymen) have pulled down to allow the hunt and the quad bikes to follow the hounds.
Is the Trust really that gullible? Or is it that some Board members may also be members of their local hunts? Whatever the truth, Sunday February 25th became National Dis-Trust Day , when people demonstrated outside National Trust properties across the country, hoping to convince the Trust that allowing hunts to hide behind the fantasy of trail hunting supported an illegal activity.
In Dorset, around 60 cheerful anti-hunt supporters gathered at Kingston Lacy, with placards, banners, animal masks and above all, leaflets explaining why they were there. Many of them are passionate about protecting our wildlife. Many have also engaged in monitoring the hunts and trying to prevent illegal hunting. And they would certainly like to see an end to the Portman Hunt being allowed on Trust land, Kingston Lacy being within the Portman’s territory.
It is not as though the Trust hasn’t had disagreements with the Portman. On more than one occasion the Portman has been seen on the hill fort on Hambledon Hill, when it caused damage to the ramparts. As the Heritage Journal pointed out, wilfully causing damage to an ancient monument is a criminal offence. A letter from the Trust is really not enough, and hunts should not be untouchable, whether they are damaging ancient monuments or illegally hunting foxes.
On such a sunny Sunday Kingston Lacy was heaving with visitors and they all had to walk past the Dis-Trust demonstrators. People took leaflets, stopped to talk and listen. Trust members were not pleased to learn what trail hunting really meant. Some thought that ‘fox hunting had been completely banned’, a common misunderstanding of the trail hunting hole in the Hunting Act. But hopefully all those who visited Kingston Lacy should now understand why the demonstration took place. The question is – does the National Trust?
And what the public may not have been aware of was that, on the same sunny day and just down the road at Badbury Rings, point-to-point races were being held – by the Portman Hunt. How jolly!