Countryside Alliance Animal Welfare consultant Jim Barrington writes:

The vote at the forthcoming National Trust AGM to prevent the organisation from issuing licences permitting trail hunting on its land is reminiscent of previous actions taken by anti- hunting activists that go back to the 1990s.

That last attempt concerned a motion put forward by the then League Against Cruel Sports director, demanding that dates and times of hunting activity be published in order that they could be ‘monitored’. Another motion on the same occasion tried to prohibit the use of hunts to search for and dispatch wounded deer, despite operating under the exemptions in the Hunting Act. The motions were voted down.

Exemptions were regarded as necessary for conservation or pest control reasons and were written into this law by anti- hunting MPs pushing for this measure. They were advised by the coalition of anti-hunting groups, including the LACS. In other words, this is legal hunting based on a law drafted by anti-hunting groups and sympathetic politicians and yet they still weren’t satisfied.

That frustration continues and could easily apply to Helen Beynon, the proposer of this new motion. There is no law preventing the hunting of a trail with hounds, yet because antis tend to see actual hunting at every turn, the accusation has been made that this form of legal hunting is just a front, and a smokescreen for live quarry hunting. Ms Beynon says she was under the impression that hunting was illegal, indicating that she does not understand the various exemptions under the Hunting Act and at the same time revealing a serious lack of knowledge about what has been happening since this legislation came into force over 12 years ago.

In support of this motion, the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) has produced a report containing numerous unsubstantiated incidents which, they claim, support this charge. A similar document was produced by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. I wonder how many times these ‘breaches of the law’ have been reported to the police or the National Trust and, if so, what was the response? Anti-hunt ‘monitors’ can hardly be regarded as unbiased, so their ‘evidence’ must always be questionable, yet both reports have been quoted as if somehow they are fact.

If certain activities are to be banned on National Trust land, or indeed any area of the countryside, it would be good to know what methods of wildlife management are actually advocated by these groups, who appear very reluctant to explain their alternative vision of the countryside and what sort of relationship we should have with wildlife. A review of another LACS document shows their preferred policies seems to be little more than a list of preventative measures, such as fencing, disturbance or, oddly, “blocking” rabbit burrows when empty. They avoid any possible form of lethal control, though amazingly refer to ‘No control’ as one viable option, saying it is “reasonably efficient”. That would no doubt please many supporters of LACS who would repeat that well- worn phrase, “Leave it all to nature”, conjuring up an image of a kind of wildlife utopia. Such a view fails to recognise that this means no disease control, no protection for vulnerable species and no means to prevent livestock or crop losses; animal welfare would certainly not be improved.

Even so, I doubt any of these ‘alternative’ methods will be included in the written motion to the National Trust. Were that to be the case, at least there might then be the opportunity for a sensible debate at the Trust’s AGM on the merits of the evidence supporting each of the various options. The LACS and their anti-hunting colleagues are very good at telling other organisations how to manage their land and yet when land in the hands of this groups is examined, a very unsavoury picture emerges.

For years, the LACS’ Baronsdown sanctuary has been the subject of criticism. Deer were encouraged to enter the land by feeding, resulting in an unnaturally high concentration of the animals. Various diseases, including lungworm, were reported in deer around the area and wounded animals were sighted, some being involved in road traffic accidents, which, according to some reports, were due to the animals in such poor condition that they could not respond quickly enough to oncoming vehicles.

The latest LACS report includes another allegation, which is that hunts and their hounds spread disease, one being bovine TB and this really is ironic, as explained below. Dogs, by the way, are regarded as a ‘dead-end host’ as far as being a risk is concerned. As Dr Lewis Thomas of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management states, “The suggestion demonstrates ignorance of how bTB transmits between animals and humans. It requires protracted exposure to high challenge doses which, clearly, is not the case with hunting hounds.” Deer can be placed in the same category, as they tend to avoid humans and cattle.

Somehow, maybe through badgers, bovine TB entered Baronsdown, perhaps in the 1990s. However, due to the unnaturally high concentration of deer in the sanctuary, the disease could pass easily from one deer to another because of ‘nose-to-nose’ contact – something that generally does not happen in normal sized herds. It was directly due to these almost unique conditions that such an extraordinary outbreak of bovine TB occurred – something that scientists examining the health of the red deer on Exmoor regarded as one of the largest they had witnessed. The disease has diminished since its high point in the early 2000s, but there are continuing effects on the deer on Baronsdown that concern experts and conservationists to the present day.

So before the National Trust takes advice from supporters of the League Against Cruel Sports, perhaps they should take a very close look at their version of conservation.

See more about our campaign to preserve legal trail-hunting on National Trust land. 

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More articles by Jim are available on his blog.