Lake District becomes first National Park to suspending trail hunting over leaked webinar

Emma Gatten
trail hunting
trail hunting

The Lake District has become the first national park to suspend licenses for trail hunting in the wake of a police investigation over leaked footage from a hunt group webinar. 

The move marks the latest in an unprecedented wave of suspensions by landowners against the sport, amid calls from campaigners that they be made permanent. 

Natural Resources Wales also on Friday confirmed it would be suspending licenses while police and the Crown Prosecution Service investigate whether any criminal offences took place during a seminar held by the Hunting Office, the sport’s governing body, in August, in which participants discussed creating a “smokescreen” around their activities. 

Since hunting mammals with dogs was outlawed in 2005, hunting groups have taken up trail laying, in which a track of scent is laid for hounds to follow in a way that mimics a traditional hunt. 

Animal rights groups say that trail hunting is merely a cover to continue fox hunting. Hunting groups say the killing of any foxes found by hounds while out on the trail is accidental. 

The Hunting Office and the Countryside Alliance have remained defiant as the number of suspensions has steadily risen this week. 

Tim Bonner, the chief executive of the Countryside Alliance said losing a few meets “is a problem but not a crisis.” 

Chris Packham, the TV naturalist, called on Exmoor National Park to follow the Lake District’s lead. 

“In my humble opinion you are now out of step with the necessary response to the hunting org’ revelations,” he wrote on Twitter. 

Campaigners including the League Against Cruel Sports said trail hunting should also be halted on Duchy of Cornwall, Church of England and Ministry of Defence land, and the suspensions made permanent. 

Forestry England and the National Trust became the first to suspend licenses earlier this week after police opened an investigation over footage from the webinar, which was leaked on social media. 

The online seminars which were attended by more than 100 hunt staff and masters of hunts and infiltrated by hunt saboteurs, were designed to discuss how hunting groups can avoid saboteur groups and legal challenges.

In one edited section of video posted by hunt saboteurs on social media, one of the participants can be heard saying: "It's a lot easier to create a smokescreen if you've got more than one trail layer operating.”

They added: “And that is what it's all about, trying to portray to the people watching that you're going about your legitimate business."

Chris Luffingham of the League Against Cruel Sports said: “This is the first time we’ve seen some of the largest landowners in England and Wales withdraw permission wholesale to ‘trail’ hunt like this. 

“Licences have previously been taken away from individual hunts seen to have been chasing foxes, but only on a case-by-case basis, until now.”

Although Duchy of Cornwall’s estate has not granted licenses for any trail hunts so far this year because of the pandemic, there are several hunts that regularly use his land. 

Among these is the Duke of Beaufort’s Foxhounds, which uses land on the Highgrove Estate in Gloucestershire. 

The Ministry of Defence said it would not take a decision on suspending fox trail hunting until the police investigation was complete.