by Countryside Alliance

Trail hunting, which is currently banned from taking place on land owned by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), was in the spotlight today after its board agreed to review the practice as part of a future ‘recreational strategy’.

It came as board members heavily criticised their own Executive Team for presenting a paper setting out its intention to keep the current ban on the lawful activity, despite failing to produce any evidence to justify the controversial decision. 

The decision by the quango to ban trail hunting was brought forward in November 2021, after the former director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA), Mark Hankinson, was convicted of encouraging illegal fox hunting. However, Mr Hankinson has since successfully appealed the court’s decision, casting doubt over whether the current ban can continue to be implemented. 

At today’s meeting (22/09/2022) board members were keen to emphasise that the paper presented to them, which signalled continuation of the current ban, did not include any evidence of illegal hunting and that it was full of “speculation”. 

One board member, Professor Peter Rigby FRS, FMedSci, noted firmly that had Mark Hankinson’s trial not taken place, NRW would probably not have come to the decision to ban trail hunting in the first place. 

Another board member said that its decision had been made purely on the result of Mark Hankinson’s trial, refuting the content of the paper, which had attempted to centre the decision instead over the lack of resources needed to monitor trail hunting activity. 

Concerns were also raised about a lack of outreach between NRW and groups like the Countryside Alliance, as well as the British Hound Sports Association, hunting’s new governing body prior to the meeting.

Despite the glaring deficiencies, the paper was voted through. However, at the suggestion of the Chair, the board agreed to review trail hunting as part of its wider recreational strategy, for which a date has not been set.

Rural campaign group, the Countryside Alliance, has demanded that the review take place urgently and not be unnecessarily delayed, in the interest of ‘fairness’. 

Rachel Evans, Director of Countryside Alliance Wales said: “At the very least, the Board should have rejected this paper today based on the extraordinary lack of evidence. As it stands, NRW has opened itself to very obvious challenges. It must now urgently review its policy on trail hunting and reinstate the licensing system which has successfully enabled legal trail hunting on its land for more than 15 years. This issue isn’t going away and the Countryside Alliance will be pursuing it relentlessly. At the end of the day, this is about fairness and standing up to prejudice.”

Trail hunting involves 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 took up trail-hunting with their hounds to comply with the new law that had banned traditional foxhunting. There are other exempt activities which hunts use in addition to trail hunting that also comply with the law.

The Countryside Alliance wrote to Board Members in August 2022 and subsequently wrote again ahead of September's Board meeting. You can read our letter here.

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