National Trust members vote to ban trail hunting amid concerns it is a 'cover' for hunting with dogs

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Members of the National Trust have voted to ban trail hunting over fears it is being used as a "smokescreen" for chasing and killing foxes.

Trail hunting involves people on foot or horseback following a scent along a pre-determined route with hounds or beagles without foxes being deliberately chased or killed.

Voters who supported a motion to prohibit the activity on trust land state that "overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that 'trail hunting' is a cover for hunting with dogs".

Saturday's vote saw a total of 76,816 votes were cast for the ban, with 38,184 votes against and 18,047 abstentions.

The board of trustees is expected to consider the vote result following Saturday's annual general meeting - since it is only advisory and not legally binding.

Demonstrators from the UK-based animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports gathered outside Harrogate Convention Centre in North Yorkshire as the event was being held in support of the ban.

Andy Knott, chief executive of the charity, welcomed the result, saying: "Enough is enough. Now the membership has voted to permanently end it, we must insist the National Trust's trustees listen and act.

"The trust must ban 'trail' hunting on its land for good. Other landowners should take note and immediately follow suit."

However, Countryside Alliance, which campaigned against the motion, said Saturday's outcome represents a "tiny proportion" of national membership and therefore gives no mandate.

The Hunting Act 2004 banned the hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales.

Last November, the National Trust and Forestry England suspended licences for trail hunting on their land in light of a police investigation into webinars involving huntsmen discussing the practice.

The vote also comes several weeks after prominent huntsman Mark Hankinson was convicted after giving advice about how to covertly carry out illegal fox hunts.

Hankinson, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, was found guilty at Westminster Magistrates' Court of intentionally encouraging huntsmen to use legal trail hunting as "a sham and a fiction" for the unlawful chasing and killing of animals via two webinars held in August last year.

The judge ordered him to pay £3,500, and concluded that he was "clearly encouraging the mirage of trail laying to act as cover for old fashioned illegal hunting".

Polly Portwin, the Countryside Alliance's director of the campaign for hunting, argued that adopting the motion "would totally undermine the Trust's own motto: 'for everyone, for ever'".

She said the alliance remains ready to work with the trust "to ensure that everyone can have confidence that trail hunting activity is open, transparent and legitimate", adding there is "absolutely no mandate for prohibition of a legal activity which has been carried out on National Trust land for generations".

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