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25th October 2017

Hounds Off Opinion: National Trust 2017 AGM

Results from the Beynon Resolution for a cessation of trail hunting, exempt hunting & hound exercise on NT land at the National Trust 2017 AGM. Results from the Beynon Resolution for a cessation of trail hunting, exempt hunting & hound exercise on NT land at the National Trust 2017 AGM.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED

Helen Beynon’s Members Resolution to ban so-called trail hunting on National Trust properties failed by 299 votes (30,686 for; 30,985 against). So the #TrailHuntLies continue, just. The question is, what to do next?

Leaving the National Trust in disgust, though understandable, is only going to leave it vulnerable to entryism by the pro hunt lobby. That would be disastrous for persecuted wildlife. If you can afford the fees, then for fox sake remain or become a National Trust member. We are clear: change can only be effected from within (if you’re not a member then you cannot vote). As influential and substantial landowners, whether or not hunting is banned across 248,000 hectares really does matter.

SOME HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Since 1988 there have been five National Trust (NT) Members Resolutions against hunting with hounds. Some were defeated, others were carried. Way back in 1990, the Chairman used between 30 and 40 thousand proxy votes in an attempt to defeat two motions presented to the AGM. Sounds familiar? The only difference between then and now is that one, the Cronin-Wilson Resolution (to ban staghunting on NT land) was carried by 68,679 to 63,985.

That Members voted to stop this particularly hideous form of rural entertainment rocked the NT Ruling Council and the hunting community at large.

The Ruling Council ignored their Members. Instead of implementing a ban, they set up a Working Party crammed with hunting sympathisers to investigate the implications of a ban whilst specifically ignoring the abuse of and suffering caused to hunted deer. Predicatably, the Working Party recommended no ban on staghunting. The hunting fraternity, meanwhile, amid threats of rural vandalism and disobedience if the bloodsport was prohibited, urged their supporters to join the NT in an effort to swing the balance of power in their favour. There was a battle royal being waged within and around the NT.

Lord Soper was President of the League Against Cruel Sports at the time and also a member of the NT. His Members Resolution to a NT Extraordinary General Meeting held on Saturday 16 July 1994 had many anti hunters rolling their eyes at its seeming timidity but it was ultimately to succeed in ways that nobody on either side of the bloodsports fence anticipated. The Soper Resolution called for a “balanced Working Party to be convened to consider the aspects of cruelty and welfare that were ignored previously.” It was carried by a whopping 114,857 to 99,607.

In April 1995 the NT Ruling Council invited Professor Patrick Bateson of Cambridge University to conduct a two-year scientific study into the welfare implications of hunting deer with hounds. He and his team did this with the full co-operation of West Country staghunts and the League Against Cruel Sports. The findings were published as ‘The Behavioural and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer’ (aka The Bateson Report). The evidence of cruelty inherent in staghunting and the proven effects of suffering caused to hunted deer, regardless of whether they were eventually killed or not, stunned all concerned. The day after being presented with The Bateson Report, the NT Ruling Council (to its credit) agreed not to renew any licences for staghunting on NT land.

After a couple of days shame and shock, the hunters fought back. Among other tactics, Countryside Alliance President and staghunting apologist Baroness Mallalieu set up Friends of the National Trust (FONT) with the aim of getting their people elected onto the NT Ruling Council. To date FONT has not fully succeeded, but they are still trying.

WHERE WE ARE NOW

Sure, Helen Beynon’s 2017 Members Resolution to ban so-called trail hunting on NT lands failed, but by a whisker. I would argue that now is not the time to cut up membership cards and walk away. More than ever, hunted wildlife needs compassionate advocates with voices and votes. I hope you can see that where we today are is not the beginning but actually the continuation of something which has been going on for decades. Against the odds and despite all the pain, disappointment and blind eyes, we have moved (and keep moving) mountains.

You can be rest assured that hunt supporters up and down the country will be joining the National Trust en masse. They are already pressurising the Ruling Council to backslide on their recently introduced conditions for licensing so-called trail hunting. Currently, sixty-seven Hunts are in dispute with the NT over these license conditions. We need the NT to stand firm. Leaving as a protest might make you feel better in the short-term but in the long-run if our voices get weaker while theirs get stronger it won’t help hunted animals.

I just became a paid-up Member because I want to ensure that these new licensing conditions which hunts are calling “unworkable” are actually adhered to. And, next time there is a Members Resolution to stop hunting on National Trust land, I’ll be ready, willing and eligible to vote for it (who knows, I might even be the proposer…).

RECOMMENDED READING

Thanks to Ian Pedler for documenting so much of the long history of various campaigns against deer hunting. His excellent book Save Our Stags (ISBN 978-0-9554786-0-4) is a hugely valuable tool for any students or others who want to learn about the campaigns against deer hunting with hounds from 1891 to 2007.

© Joe Hashman

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