Councils crack down on trail-hunting as police investigation into hunt masters’ meetings continues

And third local authority prepares to consider suspending hunts, following in footsteps of large landowners

Jane Dalton
Thursday 10 December 2020 21:47
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Two councils have launched crackdowns on trail-hunting on their land, two weeks after landowners banned the activity in response to a criminal investigation into how it is organised.

The news comes as a third local authority is due to consider a motion suspending hunts from its land.

Councillors at Cheshire West and Chester Council on Thursday evening backed a motion that paves the way for a ban, voting to devise a new policy reflecting the “damage” caused by trail-hunting.  

Just 24 hours earlier, councillors in Peterborough voted to ban trail-hunting on public land, in what was hailed by animal lovers as a landmark decision.

On Monday, Cherwell District Council in Oxfordshire will consider a temporary ban.

In the past two weeks, six of Britain’s biggest landowners banned trail-hunting in response to a criminal investigation into secret webinars at which hunt masters discussed creating “smokescreens” and avoiding being accused of illegal activity.

Police and the Crown Prosecution Service launched an investigation after footage of the meetings was made public.

Within days, Forestry England, the National Trust, United Utilities, Natural Resources Wales, the Lake District National Park and the Church of England all announced bans on use of their land for trail-hunting.

The Cheshire West and Chester motion read: “With a continual threat to the environment and on wild and domestic animals; to prevent potential illegal activity in breach of the Hunting Act 2004 and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and to prevent damage to other flora and fauna by hunts, their hounds, followers and objectors, this council asks cabinet to consider and develop a policy to clearly reflect this position with regard to trail hunting on council-owned land.”

The League Against Cruel Sports, which has been lobbying for a ban in Cheshire for months, hopes more local authorities will follow suit.

The Cherwell motion calls on the leader to “write to hunt masters in and around the district and Thames Valley Police, making clear that, while investigations into trail hunting are ongoing, hunts will not be permitted to cross public or council-controlled land or cause a nuisance on public highways within Cherwell, and that we will expect any such encroachments to be prosecuted to the fullest extent.”

Nottinghamshire County Council banned trail-hunting last year, but Essex and South Kesteven have rejected similar motions.

After Peterborough’s vote, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance told The Daily Telegraph: “This decision will not affect local hunts because none of them use council-owned land to conduct their hunting activities.

“The motion was a complete waste of time and will have no practical consequences. Local packs will continue to trail hunt in a Covid-secure manner and enjoy the support of local followers.”

Despite lockdown, the league claimed it had documented multiple incidents in the Cheshire West area since August, including a report of a pet Labrador being attacked by 30 beagles, reports of suspected cub hunting, and the whipping of a pony for refusing to cross a ditch.

Matt Bryan, a Labour member of the council cabinet, said multiple incidents of badger sett blocking had also been reported, as well as the pursuit of foxes by hounds, livestock worrying (including horses and pregnant ewes), and a hound killed on a road.

Cheshire is a hot spot for hunting in Britain, the league says, after 27 incidents were reported last winter.

The Hunting Act 2004 banned fox-hunting with dogs but hunts say they stay within the law by trail hunting, where riders and hounds follow a scent laid in advance.

But activists claim it is simply cover for hunts to continue to chase and kill foxes, with hounds still trained in autumn cub-hunting each year.

The league last week issued figures it said showed there were 300 reported incidents of suspected illegal fox cub hunting across England and Wales from August to October, the season when they are trained.

When The Independent asked the Duchy of Cornwall - another major landowner - whether it was reviewing its policy on allowing hunts, it declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “The Hunting Act 2004 makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with dogs and completely bans hare coursing. Those found guilty under the act are subject to the full force of the law.”

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