Natural Resources Wales bans trail hunting on its land

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Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has banned trail hunting on its land after a senior huntsman was convicted of using the sport as a “smokescreen” for illegal fox hunting.

The Government-sponsored body, which manages large swathes of countryside and forest, follows in the footsteps of the National Trust, whose members voted to impose a ban in late October.

Trail hunting sees horse riders and hounds follow a pre-laid scent and is an alternative to fox hunting, which was banned in 2005.

Mark Hankinson, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, told members of the Hunting Office that trail hunting could be used a “smokescreen” for a banned hunt, in two webinars in August 2020.

Mark Hankinson court case
Mark Hankinson leaves Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London (Laura Parnaby/PA)

His illicit advice was exposed after saboteurs sent footage to police, and he was convicted of encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence after a trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on October 15.

Hankinson was ordered to pay £3,500 in fines and court costs.

On Thursday, NRW said trail hunting would no longer be allowed on its land after its board decided not to renew the arrangement it had with the Masters of Foxhounds Association.

A spokesman for NRW said it had “lost confidence” in the association, and did not have the resources to ensure trail hunting was not being used as a cover for illegal activity.

Trail hunting had been suspended on NRW land since November 2020 after police began their investigation into Hankinson.

Dominic Driver, head of land stewardship for NRW, said: “We have carefully considered the court ruling and our role before coming to a decision at the board meeting, which we held in public session.

“The board has decided not to renew our agreement with the Masters of Foxhounds Association.

“The outcome of the court case against a senior leader of the MFHA has resulted in a loss of confidence in the organisation’s ability to ensure its activities are carried out within the law and terms of its agreement.

“In order to assure ourselves properly that trail hunting on our estate wasn’t being used as a cover for illegal activity, we would have to invest in skills and resources that we currently don’t have, to police it properly.

“Given what has historically been a minor use of the land we manage, this does not represent good use of our limited resources.

“As all trail hunting was managed under the same agreement, all trail hunting activity on the NRW-managed estate will end with immediate effect.”

Rachel Evans, director of Countryside Alliance Wales, claimed the move by NRW was a “a purely political one” driven by the Welsh Labour Government and compared it to a similar ban on game shooting.

“It is indeed disappointing, but not wholly surprising, that NRW have again channelled the political wishes of the Labour Government in Cardiff,” she said.

A spokesman for the Hunting Office said: “It is disappointing that NRW didn’t consult with the Masters of Foxhounds Association before making this decision, however we hope that further consultation may be possible following the review that we are currently conducting.”

Chris Luffingham, deputy chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, called NRW’s decision “hugely significant”.

“The NRW board’s robust condemnation of the hunts in the wake of the recent conviction is wholly appropriate, and other major landowners that had also suspended so-called trail hunting ahead of the trial must surely be in the process of ending this activity on their land,” he said.

“Trail hunting is a smokescreen for old-fashioned illegal hunting, and enough is enough.”

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