by Countryside Alliance

An animal welfare campaigner and former director of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) has accused the group of attempting to ‘waste valuable council time’ after launching a petition to end trail hunting on council land.

On Friday, 27th May 2022, LACS are set to meet outside County Hall in Taunton to launch the petition which calls on Somerset County Council to end trail hunting on land that it owns and manages. But Jim Barrington, an animal welfare campaigner who worked for LACS until the mid-nineties and is now a consultant for the Countryside Alliance, accused the group of “spreading mistruths” and “fuelling division”. 

Mr. Barrington said: “LACS has a history of spreading mistruths about the reality of trail hunting. Trail hunting is a legal activity, which involves the laying of an artificial scent for hounds to follow. Somerset, like elsewhere across the country, is facing a cost of living crisis and clearly all attention should be on alleviating the anxiety that many in the county are feeling. 

He continued: “LACS are either totally oblivious to the concept of reading the room, or they are deliberately attempting to waste valuable council time. This petition has nothing to do with animal welfare, but everything to do with anti-rural prejudice.” 

Mr. Barrington claimed the group were in “no place to lecture landowners” given historic evidence of “appalling conditions of deer at their Baronsdown sanctuary”, which is situated near Dulverton in Somerset. A shocking report in 2002 revealed that dozens of deer at the their site were dying of starvation and disease, because the anti-hunting group refused to allow any form of culling.

This is not the first time hunting and Somerset County Council have been under scrutiny. In 1995, a resolution by the local authority to ban hunting on its land was found unlawful because it was passed on moral rather than administrative grounds.

 The Countryside Alliance, which has thousands of members across Somerset, claimed that it would follow any action or developments in relation to the petition and the council closely.

Somerset County Council was recently gained by the Liberal Democrats. Prior to the local elections on May 5th this year, the local party manifesto pledged to “recognise and promote the importance of sporting, cultural, recreational amenities and facilities and creative events in improving quality of life and building resilient communities”.

Mr. Barrington said: “The Liberal Democrats have positioned themselves as a rural focused party and made the noble commitment of promoting sports and culture. Clearly, depending on the outcome of this petition, that will be tested. No council should be banning or curtailing a legal activity, particularly when it is fuelled by deeply unpleasant, anti-rural sentiment.”

There are 15 registered hunts that are either based in Somerset, or that trail lay in parts of the county. It is unclear that any council owned land is actually used by any of the hunts.

The Alliance argues that each of these hunts are an integral part of both the rural economy and community.

Only recently, an attempt to ban trail hunting on land in North Northamptonshire was voted down by councillors after a motion was put to a vote.

Cornwall Council debated a similar petition in January this year. It saw councillors from various political parties defend trail hunting.

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