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National Trust set for divisive vote over end to trail hunting

The issue has caused splits in the trust’s 5.6 million members

Jane Dalton
Saturday 04 September 2021 12:17 BST
‘Trail-hunting’ is a cover for foxhunting, according to opponents
‘Trail-hunting’ is a cover for foxhunting, according to opponents (Getty Images)

The National Trust is set to face a divisive row over hunting as members prepare for a fresh landmark vote on ending the practice on trust land.

The last time the trust’s 5.6 million members were invited to vote, it led to claims of dirty tricks and split supporters.

The new ballot, at the trust’s annual general meeting next month, is over whether “trail-hunting”, exempt hunting and exercising hounds should be permanently banned on the organisation’s land.

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.

The issue has divided animal-loving trust members, some of whom gave up their membership as a protest, while others argued it was important to remain a member to have a vote this time round.

Hunting wild mammals with dogs has been banned in the UK since 2005, but the National Trust continued to allow “trail-hunting”, a practice that opponents say is a cover for actual fox-hunting.

Hunters insist trail-hunting is legal and does not involve animal cruelty.

Before the 2017 vote, the trust tried to get tough on illegal hunting, making changes such as banning the use of animal-based scents, but members branded them insufficient to stop fox-hunting and questioned how the organisation could police the new rules.

Then last year the trust was among a string of large landowners that suspended “trail-hunting” on their land while police investigated claims that hunt organisers planned to kill foxes.

But if anti-hunt campaigners win on 30 October, the temporary ban will become permanent.

The charity’s trustees say they have not yet decided whether to back the motion. The trust says it will be considering “a number of issues” before reviewing its position on trail-hunting later this year.

“We’ve been listening carefully to both sides of a highly polarised and passionate debate,” the trust said.

The League Against Cruel Sports, which is encouraging animal lovers to back the ban, says it will stage a peaceful protest outside the AGM. The Countryside Alliance has urged members to reject the motion.

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