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League Against Cruel Sports protestors, from press release, with permission for use by all LDRS partners

Campaigners in north Staffordshire and the Shropshire/Cheshire borders are celebrating after National Trust members voted to permanently ban trail hunting on the trust’s land.

The charity’s members voted 78,816 in favour of the ban, versus 38,184 against, over the weekend. The result now needs to be ratified by the National Trust’s board of trustees.

Activists have been staging protests outside a number of local properties – including Biddulph Grange, Little Moreton Hall, Lyme Park and the Long Mynd.

Of those, only Long Mynd (in Shropshire) is believed to have hosted trail hunts and the protests at the other properties were designed to raise awareness of issue.

Alsager councillor Jane Smith, of the Animal Welfare Party, has been campaigning on the issue for a number of years.

She said: “This is a historic result because it marks a very important nail in the coffin of illegal fox hunting carried out under the guise of ‘trail’ hunting.

“The National Trust had huge swathes of land which were being used by hunts, who will now have to rely on privately-owned land.

“The pressure is now on for major private landowners to follow suit, which I suspect will now happen quickly.”

What is trail hunting?

Hunting wild mammals with dogs was banned in England and Wales when the Hunting Act 2004 came into force, and National Trust land is included in this.

The law currently allows trail hunting to continue, however.

This involves people on foot or horseback following a scent along a pre-planned route with hounds or beagles.

It’s designed to replicate a traditional hunt but without a fox being chased, injured or killed.

However, activists claim it is being used as a ‘smokescreen’ for illegal activity.

They say trail hunts are specifically designed to deceive the authorities and make the prosecution of illegal hunters very difficult.

What about drag hunting?

Drag hunting is recognised as a legitimate sport, and first started in the 1800s.

It is not intended to mimic animal hunting, but instead is a sport using hounds to search for a non-animal scent laid by someone pulling it on a string.

It does not involve the pursuit or killing of wild animals, and ‘accidents’ – where live animals are chased – are said to be very rare.

What does the National Trust say?

A statement on the National Trust website says: “We do not allow illegal activity on our land and we take any validated reports of illegal activity seriously.

“We ask that any reports are passed to the police directly, as the appropriate body to investigate criminal matters, in addition to notifying our staff on the ground where possible.

“We will continue to work with our partners in the police to ensure incidents on National Trust land are appropriately investigated.

“We are not able to comment on the outcome of any reported incidents.”

A spokesperson for Staffordshire and Shropshire properties added that the trust has not issued any licenses in Staffordshire.

They said there were previously licenses issued at two properties in Shropshire (Long Mynd and Dudmaston Estate) bu these expired in 2019 and have’t been renewed.

Which groups are campaigning about this?

Hunt monitoring groups – including local organisations such as Staffordshire Against the Hunt, Cheshire Against Blood Sports and Cheshire Wildlife Action – are all active in trying to prevent illegal hunting taking place.

As well as these groups, The Animal Welfare Party has been campaigning in the local area alongside members of anti-hunt groups and the League Against Cruel Sports.

A spokesperson for Cheshire Against Blood Sports said: “We’re so pleased National Trust members have voted to ban ‘trail’ hunting from Trust sites around the country.

“Wild animals have the right to feel safe, including here in Cheshire where local hunts do skirt around Trust land.

“We hope the board of trustees now ratify this vote and that other landowners follow suit. ‘Trail’ hunting is nothing but a smokescreen for illegal fox hunting and other wildlife crimes, and this has been proven in court.”

Words: Richard Price, Local Democracy Reporter

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