On 30 October, members of the National Trust voted to ban hunting from the Trust’s land. It came after a decade-long campaign to stop one of Britain’s largest private landowners hosting hunts. Campaigners have described the 2021 vote as a “historic outcome”.
“Trail hunting is a cover”
Nearly 77,000 National Trust members voted to ban trail hunting during the charity’s 2021 AGM, with just over 38,000 people voting against the ban. The vote is advisory, meaning the charity’s trustees aren’t bound to adopt the vote. But the result sends a stark message that more than 50% of members interested in the topic believe “overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that trail hunting is a cover for hunting with dogs”.
The numbers also stand in contrast to the previous motion on trail hunting. In 2017, just over 60,000 members voted on a motion to ban trail hunting and those in favour of a ban lost by just 299 votes. Anti-hunting campaigners at the time pointed to the intervention of discretionary votes cast by chair Tim Parker, without which the result would have swung in favour of a ban. No discretionary votes were cast for the 2021 vote.
The campaign that started it
The Canary spoke to campaign group Stop Hunting on the Nation’s Land, which started its campaign to stop hunts on National Trust land under the name National Dis-Trust. A spokesperson for the group said it was “absolutely thrilled at the historical outcome of the” vote. And when asked about the advisory rather than binding nature of the vote, the group said:
Although all AGM member’s voting outcomes are advisory, it would be astonishing if the Trust went against the outcome of the 2021 resolution, although we accept that they will now be under huge pressure from the bloodsports lobby.
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The Canary also asked Stop Hunting on the Nation’s Land if it thought the National Trust might find a solution that tries to appease both sides of the vote, much as it did after the 2017 vote with the introduction of a new hunt management and licensing system. It said that the management team was appointed at “a huge cost” of “over £100,000 a year of members’ money”. Furthermore, hunts themselves were “unable or unwilling to comply with the licensing conditions”. As a result:
This resulted in a dramatic drop in licensed hunts… [and] led to hunts deliberately changing dates or just not showing up, in a bid to escape observation. This middle ground attempt therefore failed, indicating that the Trust can no longer continue to facilitate hunting at any level or in any disguise.
One significant story that Stop Hunting on the Nation’s Land believes affected the 2021 vote was the trial and prosecution of Mark Hankinson, director of the Master of Fox Hounds Association, just two weeks before the National Trust’s AGM. The group said:
Aside from the long term campaigning by ourselves and others, we believe the Hankinson trial, with its high profile guilty outcome, has been a great influence on how members voted. It’s thanks to the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) for getting that information [Hunting Office webinars leaked in November 2020] into the public domain, with the trial being held at an opportune moment so that the public were freshly aware that trail hunting is just a smokescreen for illegal hunting.
The National Trust and other major landowners suspended all hunting licences following the webinar leaks. At the time, the charity had licensed just one hunt, the Old Berkshire Hunt, which stands in contrast to the 79 licenses granted to 69 hunts licensed during the 2016/17 season.
Efforts of a very small group
The Canary also spoke to Helen Beynon, who was responsible for instigating the vote during the National Trust’s 2017 AGM. Beynon said she is “jubilant” over the 2021 outcome and believes the charity “can hardly ignore” the message it sends.
Reflecting on the years between the two votes, Beynon said:
We were so close in 2017 due, as this time, to the many different groups who came together to campaign to alert members that they could stop animals being killed by hunts. From the HSA, Action Against Fox Hunting, KeepTheBan, and those who’ve suffered threats and criminal damage as a result of their efforts to campaign for animals over many years.
As it was it remained the work of a very small group of volunteers to hold the Trust accountable for the light touch team they employed to supposedly monitor hunts after the vote. Even though they gave hunts warning and observed them from a single vantage point it was enough to put most of the hunts off. And few applied for licenses in the following year.
Beynon also cited the HSA’s work in publishing the Hunting Office’s webinars as key to members’ motivations:
The HSA’s work on bringing the Hunting Office to task has been a big help this year in shining a spotlight on what the Hunting Office call ‘trail hunting’. There’s no place for the hunts to hide reality from National Trust members who keep informed on issues affecting the Trust.
Reflecting on the outcomes
The Canary contacted the National Trust for comment on the vote and also asked how it will walk the tightrope between both parties following the overwhelming vote to ban hunting. It responded:
The votes cast by members on the resolutions are advisory and will help us make decisions in the weeks to come. Later this autumn, our Board of Trustees will meet and reflect on the outcomes of the resolutions. We will update members as soon as possible.
Countryside Alliance’s Polly Portwin also issued a statement following the vote, saying:
Today’s vote involved a tiny proportion of the Trust’s membership and is absolutely no mandate for prohibition of a legal activity which has been carried out on National Trust land for generations.
Adopting the motion would totally undermine the Trust’s own motto: ‘for everyone, for ever.’
The campaign to finish it
Stop Hunting on the Nation’s Land has expanded its scope to Britain’s other major landowners including Forestry England, the Ministry of Defence, and water utility companies. Speaking on the potential impact of the National Trust’s members vote, it told The Canary that it believes such landowners are “waiting and watching” and will “take their cue from the Trust”. However, it’s pessimistic about the Ministry of Defence, which continued licensing hunts even after the webinar leaks.
The group concluded that the National Trust vote was the “beginning of the end” of hunting, and it will continue “to focus our energies on raising awareness of hunting on other areas of publicly owned and publicly funded land”.
More than 15 years after hunting wildlife with hounds was supposed to have finished, it seems that the efforts of saboteurs, monitors, and campaigners may finally be paying off.
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