13th Oct 2018
HOUNDS OFF OPINION
The National Trust has started issuing licences for foxhunt packs to carry out so-called trailhunting on their land. But this season the business-as-usual status quo has changed slightly. Licences will now be open to public scrutiny and a small team has been appointed to oversee this activity. For many this is not enough, for others it’ll be too much.
Myself, I’m a realist. I know the National Trust is a huge chuntering juggernaut of a conservation charity which must cater for a wide spectrum of opinions and beliefs. I know how frustratingly slow it can be to effect positive change but I also recognise that the National Trust has a history of being led by its Members and it is always worth using your voice and your vote.
So it was that on Friday 12 October I travelled to Birmingham and, with Jack Riggall from National Dis-Trust, met with Nick Droy and Rob Rhodes from the National Trust. Nick is five weeks into his role of Trailhunting Manager and Rob (who attended via telephone) is the Head of Countryside Management & Rangers.
Trailhunting Manager is a new post, created by the National Trust in response to concern from Members and the public that trailhunting is nothing more than a false alibi used to provide a cover for illegally chasing and killing wild mammals with dogs.
Nick told us that his professional background is in practical countryside management at both regional and national levels and it started eighteen years ago when he was himself a National Trust volunteer. He explained that he has no hunting in his background and is approaching this complex issue with a fresh eye and open mind.
Nick will lead a team of three; an office-based co-ordinator and a worker who will assist in carrying out face to face engagements, checks in the field and monitoring of so-called trailhunting on National Trust land.
This season, the Trailhunting Team will be conducting one pre-arranged inspection of each Hunt which is granted a licence by the National Trust. My problem with this is that it provides an easy way for #TrailHuntLies to avoid detection because when Nick is about Hunts will temporarily change the way they behave.
I told Nick and Rob this and referred them to a 2015 report called Trail Of Lies. It is a fantastically complete and in-depth exposé of how Hunts have used trailhunting to circumvent the law, to carry on abusing and killing. The only problem with Trail Of Lies is that it was complied and produced by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and so hunters consider it to be propaganda.
What happened was the RSPCA had grasped the nettle in terms of taking private Hunting Act prosecutions and landed seminal convictions against the prestigious Heythrop Hunt in 2012. The Countryside Alliance went ballistic and set out to destroy their opponents.
Their criticism reached a crescendo in January 2013 when former Countryside Alliance head honcho Simon Hart MP initiated a debate in the House of Commons about prosecutions brought by the RSPCA and in response Her Majesty’s Attourney General suggested that an independent review could be advantageous. The RSPCA Council took heed and appointed Stephen Wooler CB to do this. Wooler is a Barrister and former Chief Inspector to the Crown Prosecution Service.
During our meeting I read a passage from the Wooler Review and asked Nick to think of his Trailhunting Team as being the police officers to which Wooler refers;
“Securing the evidence neccasary to mount effective prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004 in respect of mainstream foxhunting therefore requires far more than sending a team of police officers to take the names and addresses of those at a hunt gathering. The evidence required is such that it is unlikely to be achieved through police presence and observations alone since behaviours would then be likely to change.” (1)
In fact, Wooler goes on to describe a “cat and mouse game between hunting participants and supporters and those endeavouring to gather evidence through observations and recordings.” (2)
I concur with Wooler (2014) and Trail Of Lies (2015): giving hunters a heads-up when they’ll be monitored on National Trust land is rather like the police telling a burglar when they’ll be round to look for stolen goods.
As Trailhunting Manager, it is part of Nick Droy’s job description (and background research) to meet with the likes of Jack and myself. I found him to be friendly, open and likeable. That’s a good start, but I do believe that there are fundamental flaws in how the National Trust have instructed him to carry out his duties. We agreed to keep lines of communication open and meet again next summer. Doubtless much will happen between now and then.
© Joe Hashman
(1) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 5.
(2) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 6.
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Costs incurred on 12 October 2018;
Return travel by road from Dorset to Oxford (179 miles at 44 pence per mile) = £78.76; Oxford to Birmingham New Street return, by train (Adult Standard Class) = £79.20; Total = £157.96
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