National Trust members have voted to ban trail hunting amid fears it is being used as a “smokescreen” for chasing and killing foxes.
Members supported a motion not to allow the activity on trust land, with those who proposed it stating that “overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that ‘trail hunting’ is a cover for hunting with dogs”.
A total of 76,816 votes were cast for the motion, with 38,184 votes against and 18,047 abstentions.
The results of the vote are not binding, but the board of trustees is expected to consider the outcome following Saturday’s annual general meeting.
Animal-lovers, who had lobbied members hard to back a ban, were jubilant.
With the trust owning 620,000 acres of land, the ballot was seen as having the potential to disrupt the future of foxhunting in England because a ban will severely restrict space for the bloodsport.
Together with other major landowners, the charity suspended “trail-hunting” a year ago after a leak of Zoom meetings at which hunt chiefs from across the UK discussed how to create “a smokescreen”.
The webinars led to Mark Hankinson, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, being convicted of encouraging people to illegally chase wild animals and being ordered to pay £3,500.
Several councils also banned trail-hunting on their land.
Hunts insist they go “trail-hunting” – following a trail laid with an artificial scent – to stay within the law after hunting mammals with dogs was outlawed in 2005. The trust had allowed this on its land ever since.
But hunt saboteurs who have repeatedly filmed hunts out riding with hounds insist the claim is a sham to cover up continued illegal foxhunting.
The National Trust vote on banning “trail-hunting”, exempt hunting and exercising hounds had divided animal-loving members, some of whom gave up their membership as a protest. Others had argued it was important to remain a member to have a vote this time round.
Four years ago members who backed a ban were in uproar when they narrowly lost the vote after the board used discretionary proxy votes to defeat the motion, prompting claims of unfairness.
When Hankinson was convicted, deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram said of his talk to the webinar: “The only reasonable interpretation of those words leads to the conclusion that a need to make something plausible is only necessary if it is a sham and a fiction.”
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