Call for Welsh Government to ban trail hunting on all publicly-owned land in Wales
A Senedd member has called on the Welsh Government to ban trail hunting on all publicly-owned land in Wales.
Hunting wild mammals with dogs was banned in Wales and England by the Hunting Act of 2004 but the law does allow what is known as trail hunting to continue.
This involves people on foot or horseback following a scent along a pre-determined route with hounds or beagles.
It effectively replicates a traditional hunt but without a fox being chased, injured or killed.
Last month Natural Resources Wales (NRW) – the Welsh Government-backed environmental body – said it will no longer allow trail hunting to take place on its land amid concern from critics that the practice serves as a smokescreen for illegal foxhunting.
Trail hunting on the NRW estate has been suspended since November 2020 following a police investigation into webinars involving huntsmen discussing the practice.
In October 2021, Master of Foxhounds Association director Mark Hankinson, was found guilty of encouraging the use of legal trail hunting as a screen to carry out the unlawful chasing and killing of animals.
Recordings of Hankinson, a director of the Master of Foxhounds Association (MFHA), speaking to around 100 senior hunters in two private webinars in August 2020 were leaked online.
The prosecution argued he was giving advice on how to avoid the law.
At Westminster court Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram said “In my judgement he was clearly encouraging the mirage of trail laying to act as cover for illegal hunting.”
Hankinson, was found guilty of encouraging the use of legal trail hunting as a screen to carry out the unlawful chasing and killing of animals.
The NRW Board decided not to renew its Master Agreement with the MFHA.
The National Trust has also banned trail hunting on its land after initially suspending the activity.
Cheshire West and Chester’s ruling cabinet voted unanimously on Tuesday to ban the practice on its land.
The move followed the publication of a council report which found it was ‘dangerous’ to wild and domestic animals, and alleged it was ‘realistically possible’ that trail hunting is used as a ‘cover up’ for other illegal hunting practices.
Joyce Watson MS has now called on the Welsh Government to ban on trail hunting on all publicly-owned land including town centres “where many of the hunts have traditionally met for their Boxing Day and their New Year’s Day hunt.”
The Labour MS for Mid and West Wales has urged the Welsh Government to work with other authorities and organisations and landowners to make a ban “reality.”
Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday Ms Watson said: “In October this year, Mark Hankinson, who was the director of Masters of Foxhounds Association, was convicted of encouraging illegal fox hunting.”
“He was caught on camera advising hunts on how to break the 2004 Hunting Act.”
“He exposed what many believe to be true of trail hunting, that it’s used as a smokescreen for illegal hunting.”
“Since his conviction, I was pleased to see that a number of organisations, including Natural Resources Wales, and the National Trust, has since banned trail hunting on their land.”
“Members of the National Trust voted overwhelmingly to support that ban.”
“Cheshire West and Chester local authority are also set to follow suit.”
“Trail hunting is also currently suspended on the Lake District National Park.”
She said: “I’d like to call for a ban on trail hunting on all publicly-owned land.”
“That includes town centres where many of the hunts have traditionally met for their Boxing Day and their New Year’s Day hunt.”
“I would like to urge the Welsh Government to look and work closely with other authorities and organisations and landowners to make this a reality.”
“It’s not just our wildlife that has suffered horrendously as a result of so-called trail hunting, but also dogs.”
“Many are run over on busy roads during a hunt, or, as seen in recent footage, shot dead when they are no longer deemed useful.”
“This, sadly, is not illegal, but nonetheless is barbaric.”
In response, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, Lesley Griffiths said: “I very much welcome the decision made by Natural Resources Wales on 18 November not to renew their agreement with the Masters of Foxhounds Association.”
“And, as you say, the National Trust banned trail hunting on their land from 25 November.”
“That decision was made in a public session, where careful consideration was made of all the issues involved following the outcome of the court case to which you refer against a senior leader of the Masters of Foxhounds Association.”
“Your request around consideration of a ban of trail hunting on all public land is something that would need further consideration by the Welsh Government.”
During Tuesday’s Cheshire West and Chester a cabinet meeting where a vote on banning trail hunting was taking place, a statement read out by Cheshire West Conservative group leader Cllr Margaret Parker, Cllr Simon Eardley, Conservative councillor for Saughall & Mollington Ward, it said: “The reality is this (is) ideology-motivated, gesture politics by those intent on banning an activity that is perfectly legal.”
He added: “In my rural ward where fly-tipping in country lanes is almost a daily problem, residents will be bemused that we’ve locked up regulatory services officer time on trying to prevent legal activity, what a perverse sense of priority that is.”
The council set up a cross-party working group earlier this year to get a better understanding of trail hunting in the borough. Its call for evidence resulted in 933 email responses, with 915 (98 per cent) in favour of the ban and 18 (two per cent) against.
But Cllr Eardley claimed there were ‘fundamental flaws’ in the report and that many of the responses were from outside the area and prompted by national pressure groups. He said: “The actual evidence presented around trail hunting leading to illegal activity is minuscule, it is barely in double figures and even then we look to be relying on verbal accounts.”
But Cllr Matt Bryan (Labour), Cabinet member for housing, planning and climate emergency, hit back.
He said: “I’m not surprised by Cllr Eardley’s ramble and rant, especially regarding gesture politics.”
He added: “Your point of minuscule evidence, this is probably the most robust evidence case that’s been put forward to a motion in the country and I hope a lot of other councils will be watching this, use this to their advantage and put forward similar motions and policy.
“To be frank I’m quite embarrassed that you call yourself my shadow because animal welfare along with the nature and climate emergency that we’re facing, these are all intertwined and it’s diabolical that you’ve got this attitude to be honest.”
Following the vote, trail hunting will no longer be allowed on council land. The 18 tenant farmers in the borough will be asked to no longer allow it, while new tenants will have it written into their tenancy agreements.
[Cheshire West and Chester Council reporting – Mark Smith, Local Democracy Reporter] Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com