A Labour Party backed motion to ‘develop policy’ for ‘trail hunting on council- owned land’ by Cheshire West & Chester Council has been slammed as “political grandstanding and pointless” by rural campaigners.
Trail hunting involves the laying of a scent across the country which a pack of hounds then searches for and follows using their noses. When the Hunting Act 2004 was enforced in February 2005, many hunts wanted to retain their infrastructure so began trail hunting with their hounds to comply with the new law that had restricted traditional hunting of quarry species.
In a virtual meeting of the council, held on Thursday 10th December, councillors debated a motion proposed by Labour’s Cllr Matt Bryan, Cabinet Member for Climate Emergency.
A subsequent amendment to the motion which sought to establish a cross party sub-committee to help steer any future policy, was defeated 29 votes to 35 before the main vote on the original motion took place and was subsequently passed.
The decision to block the amendment and to push forward with enacting a trail hunting policy without future transparency, means the Labour run authority could introduce curbs to lawful trail hunting and other hunting activities such as hound exercise, being conducted on council owned land, without sufficient scrutiny or input from the wider local community.
Speaking against the motion and questioning why valuable council time and resources were being used on this matter, Cllr. Hugo Deynem said: “I cannot see any logical or practical reason to tie up cabinet on such meaningless work on developing policy on a matter that we don’t even have evidence of. I should hardly need to remind Labour members that we are in the middle of a pandemic,” and he went on to add “Local businesses are closing in their droves. This Council, its’ leaders and its’ cabinet should be focusing on these and other critical matters affecting our residents and not using valuable officer and members time on an issue we have no evidence of being in existence.”
Cheshire has a longstanding hunting tradition, with Friedrich Engels the co-author of The Communist Manifesto having hunted with the Cheshire Hunt in the 1800s.
The Countryside Alliance say that today, thousands of local people take part and enjoy hunting activities. During these uncertain times, hunts - just like many other businesses and recreational organisations - have adapted to ensure that they can continue to operate safely and in a Covid-secure manner.
The rural campaigning group argued that the decision by Labour councillors to obsess over trail hunting is nothing more than a distraction technique to draw attention away from the current administration’s ‘failing’ record in office.
A spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance said: “This motion is nothing more than cheap political grandstanding and is pointless. It is not even clear whether the council actually holds rights over any land on which trail hunting takes place. Sadly it appears to be a shoddy distraction technique to take focus away from the very pressing issues facing Cheshire West & Chester that the current Labour administration are failing to address. We would expect any local council to fully liaise with the local trail hunting community to ensure any policy is fair. Banning a legal activity, behind closed doors and away from scrutiny, would simply be unacceptable.”
During the heated meeting, Labour Councillor Nicole Mearden, who seconded the original motion, shockingly described trail hunters as “criminals”. In an extraordinary comment, she said: “We don’t want to see it [the Cheshire countryside] ravaged by criminals and their hounds”. Trail hunting meets are frequently attended by families across the country, with many young children taking part in rides.
In response to the outrageous comments, the Alliance spokesman said: “The language used by Cllr. Mearden is completely beneath the standards expected of an elected official and there has been understandable concern by her conduct during that meeting. While she may not support trail hunting, it is an activity that many Cheshire families do support so her provocative and offensive language was completely uncalled for and clearly warrants further scrutiny.”
In 2019, a Freedom of Information request revealed that the Labour Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, David Keane, spent £34,000 of tax payer’s money on an independent review into hunting. Speaking then, Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner said: “Cheshire residents must be furious that their Police and Crime Commissioner is wasting vast sums of taxpayers money on political campaigns.The real question Mr Keane should be asking is how he is going to justify the ridiculous waste of money and diversion of resources from real crime which is resulting from his obsession with hunting.”