22nd August 2019
Jack Riggall writes:
With the 2019/20 fox hunting season now beginning I thought I’d reflect again on the Forestry Commission’s role in this. Throughout the previous hunting season, I was calling on the Forestry Commission to ban the fox hunts they licence (see here, here & here) leading to responses from DEFRA and Ian Gambles, the Forestry Commission’s CEO, on Mark Avery’s blog (see here). Both of these responses downplayed the criminality of hunting (or ignored it fully, in the case of DEFRA). Where hunt employees had wildlife crime convictions (such as the Cottesmore Hunt) these apparently are not grounds for refusing hunting licence applications, according to Ian Gambles.
One of the main points in Ian Gambles’ article about how proactive he considers the Forestry Commission to be on fox hunting is that:
- “Over the last three seasons we have: (1) suspended 2 hunts during our investigations of alleged breaches of permission; (2) refused a permission request due to previous trespass and (3) revoked a permission due to the hunt repeatedly going near a visitor site.”
Freedom of Information requests reveal more about these hunts.
- The two suspended were the Staintondale Hunt, who had their permission temporarily revoked for just one meet after killing a fox on Forestry Commission land, Sneaton Forest, on Tuesday 13th February 2018 (they were licensed again in the 2018/19 season, including for Sneaton Forest where they killed a fox) and the Derwent Hunt, who had their permission temporarily revoked for just one meet for hunting through a site where the Forestry Commission were working in the 2017/18 season. They were licensed again in the 2018/19 season.
- The hunt who, according to Ian Gambles’ had its permission request refused, was the Bilsdale Hunt. Curiously, the Forestry Commission’s letter to the hunt shows that due to the previous trespass referred to above they only had one meet refused whilst being approved for a number of other meets (‘refused a permission request’ is a pretty sneaky way for Ian Gambles’ to describe that one, and you guessed it, they were licensed in the 2018/19 season).
- Finally, the revoked permission was for the Cheshire Bloodhounds (who don’t hunt foxes).
The petition I started last year, which called for a full ban of fox hunts, actually had nothing to do with hunts who had agreements with the Forestry Commission under the Master of Bloodhounds & Draghounds Association, and was only calling for a ban of fox & hare hunts.
In short, the amount of fox hunts that have actually been banned by the Forestry Commission is zero.
The Forestry Commission met with the Master of Foxhounds Association on Thursday 15th August 2019 to update their agreement for yet another season of hunting on public land. They appear to have changed nothing in their endorsement of so-called ‘trail hunting’. But we can change that ourselves, even if only a little.
The Forestry Commission could at the very least show some transparency on hunting, as the National Trust began to do almost two years ago, and publish their hunting licences with maps & dates.
Given that the Executive Board of the Forestry Commission are meeting on 3rd September, now is a good time for everyone to sign this petition, and politely ask the Executive Board to commit to publishing these licences by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org . Remember to tell them that you’ve signed the petition!].
When you write to them, you can point out that:
- Ian Gambles has previously stated that “evidence should be given to one of our local offices if there is suspicion that someone may be breaking the terms or conditions of an agreement, permission or licence from the Forestry Commission.” The Forestry Commission itself provides no information at all on the written agreement with hunts, which hunts are licensed and which areas they are licensed for (unless forced to under the Freedom of Information Act 2000) and so we have no way of knowing if hunting licences are being breached!
- The Forestry Commission (a public department, by the way) is often subject to Freedom of Information requests over its licensing of hunting. This is clearly something the public are interested in and so the Forestry Commission should be more open about this activity without being made to by legal requests.
- The Forestry Commission’s ‘Transparency & Freedom of Information Releases’ includes none of the information relating to hunting previously requested on many occasions under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (such as the FoI requests referenced above and additional FoI requests asking for hunt meets) and so are not publicly available. Their explanation for this is that they only consider adding FoI requests to that transparency page if they’ve received three or more on the same subject. They’ve received more than three requests regarding fox hunting and so must have made a conscious decision to keep the information hidden.
Other wildlife campaigners elsewhere in the country are challenging the Forestry Commission on hunting.
- For example, in Gloucestershire where the Cotswold Vale Farmers Hunt are being challenged. A petition calling for this hunt to be banned from Forestry Commission land continues to grow (you can sign it here).
- Action Against Foxhunting in Hampshire & Wiltshire are gathering support for their campaign against the New Forest Hounds using the Forestry Commission’s land, and you can support them by emailing email@example.com.
- Finally, a petition created by the League Against Cruel Sports calls for, amongst other things, an end to landowners allowing access to hunts – this includes the Forestry Commission, and the petition has been signed by over 124,000 people (you can sign it here).
© Jack Riggall
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