Natural Resources Wales says it cannot be sure trail hunting will not be used as smokescreen for illegal activity
18th November 2021
One of the biggest landowners in Wales has banned trail hunting after a court ruled that a leading huntsman had encouraged the practice as a smokescreen for illegal foxhunting.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW), a government-sponsored body, said it could not be sure that trail hunting was not still being used as a “cover” for illegal activity so had decided to ban it completely.
The decision was welcomed by hunt saboteurs and animal rights campaigners who say the conviction in October of Mark Hankinson, the director of the Masters of the Foxhounds Association (MFHA), showed that trail hunting was a “fiction”.
Hankinson was found guilty of encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence over his comments in two webinars in front of an audience of more than 100 MFHA members.
In trail hunting, devised after the Hunting Act banned the hunting of foxes with dogs, a “trail layer” goes out ahead of the hunt, dragging a rag coated in an animal scent. Huntsmen cast the hounds to this scent, and follow it to the end of the trail.
Dominic Driver, the head of land stewardship for NRW, said: “The outcome of the court case against a senior leader of the MFHA has resulted in a loss of confidence in the organisation’s ability to ensure its activities are carried out within the law and terms of its agreement.
“In order to assure ourselves properly that trail hunting on our estate wasn’t being used as a cover for illegal activity, we would have to invest in skills and resources that we currently don’t have, to police it properly.
“Given what has historically been a minor use of the land we manage, this does not represent good use of our limited resources. All trail hunting activity on the NRW-managed estate will end with immediate effect.”
Lee Moon, spokesperson for the Hunt Saboteurs Association, said: “The fallout from the leaked webinars continues and these landowners now realise they’ve been duped by the hunting community. It’s only a matter of time before more large landowners follow suit leading to the loss of millions of acres of land and the total demise of some hunts.”
Chris Luffingham, deputy chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “For such a major landowner like Natural Resources Wales to permanently end trail hunting on its land is hugely significant.”
The League is urging other major landowners such as Forestry England, United Utilities, the Church of England, the crown estate, the Duchy of Cornwall, local authorities, the national parks authorities, and the Ministry of Defence to permanently end hunting on their property.
NRW was formed in April 2013, largely taking over the functions of the Countryside Council for Wales, Forestry Commission Wales and the Environment Agency in Wales.