The National Trust, one of the UK’s largest landowners, has announced the charity will no longer issue licences for “trail” hunting on its land – almost a year to the day since temporarily suspending the activity.
The board of trustees agreed to follow an overwhelming vote by members last month that the activity should end.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association predicted some hunts would fold as a result of the decision.
Other opponents, who have for years fought for the trust to ban “trail” hunting, were also jubilant.
They argue “trail” hunting is a smokescreen for chasing and killing real wildlife including foxes. Hunters have claimed that since chasing foxes was banned in 2004, they follow an artificial scent trail to stay within the law.
But the trust temporarily stopped issuing licences last year after the leak of webinars at which leading hunt figures discussed tactics including how to create the appearance of following scent trails.
Other landowners, including United Utilities and Forestry England, also suspended the activity on their land.
As a result of the online meetings, Mark Hankinson, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, was found guilty of encouraging others to commit an offence and ordered to pay £3,500 – in what was seen as a landmark ruling.
Earlier this month, Natural Resources Wales announced a permanent ban on “trail” hunting.
Lee Moon, Hunt Saboteurs Association spokesperson, said: “The National Trust board have made the only conscionable decision, listened to their membership and permanently banned ‘trail hunting’ from the organisation’s 620,000 acres.
“Along with the recent Natural Resources Wales’ decision, over a million acres of countryside have been denied to hunts, with more to surely follow.
“We expect to see some hunts fold completely and others face an increasingly difficult future as they struggle for land on which to carry out their illegal acts.
“We’re increasingly seeing councils deny the hunts use of their facilities on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, further sign if any were needed, that ordinary people are sick of the hunting community and their blatant disregard for the law.”
The League Against Cruel Sports cautiously welcomed the National Trust decision, but said it was concerned it did not go far enough, because without a “full and explicit ban”, foxhunting could still take place.
Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns, said: “Their members’ voices could not have been louder, sending a clear message to the board of trustees that enough is enough and trail-hunting should be banned on trust land.
“The board has recognised the strength of feeling in its membership and the public in general, who are more aware than ever that so-called trail-hunting is used as an excuse – a smokescreen – for illegal hunting.
“However, the recent Hankinson verdict has shown that the hunting community cannot be trusted from the top down, and not having a definitive ban could lead to foxes being chased and killed by hunts.”
Leading wildlife campaigner Dominic Dyer said the decision now also put pressure on the government to ban trail-hunting on its land, and on private landowners to do the same.
“It puts huge pressure on George Eustice [environment secretary] to tighten up the Hunting Act, to stop trail-hunting, to stop the activities of terrier men and get serious about implementing the 2004 Hunting Act legislation, and that’s what we should see in a modern, civilised country.”
The Hunting Office, which runs hunting in Britain, said it hoped to have further talks with the trust about the decision.
A spokesperson said the decision was “hugely disappointing”, claiming it resulted from “an engineered campaign by opponents of trail hunting to bully landowners into stopping a lawful activity”.
“Hunts have had access to National Trust land for generations and the decision goes completely against the core mantra of the National Trust ‘for everyone, for ever’. We hope that we can maintain an open dialogue with the trust and have further consultation following the review which we are currently conducting,” they said.
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the pro-hunt Countryside Alliance, said the National Trust’s decision broke a fundamental principle of “being for everyone”. He said: “By prohibiting a legal activity, it has decided it is actually just for those who its board approves of.
“The inability of trustees to differentiate between the legal use of hounds and the governance of hunting is extremely regrettable.”
Last week, Keswick town council told the Blencathra Foxhounds, one of the northwest’s largest foxhunts, it would no longer be welcome to meet in the town centre on Boxing Day or at any other time.
Animal-lovers’ eyes are now on Britain’s other large landowners.
The Ministry of Defence said it would continue allowing “trail” hunting on its land. A spokesperson said: “Trail-hunting continues to be permitted on MoD land, subject to hunts obtaining and abiding by the terms of a trail hunting licence and the law.”
A spokesperson for United Utilities said: “We continue to examine the implications of the [Hankinson] verdict. This includes assessing whether we have the resources needed to facilitate and monitor trail-hunting. We would also need reassurances from the hunts on how they will comply with licences and the law. Until this is complete, trail-hunting remains suspended on our land.”
A Crown Estate spokesperson said: “The majority of our rural portfolio is comprised of tenanted, working farmland, and while any decision to allow hunting rests with the tenant, it must always take place in full compliance with UK law.”
Forestry England said it would not take any new decisions about trail-hunting or hound exercise before all legal processes and the Hunting Office’s review had been concluded.