24th April 2018
On 9th April a group of National Trust members met with the organisation’s new Director General to discuss the ongoing concerns over hunting on Trust land. Helen Beynon, Jack Riggall, Will Morton and Joe Hashman attended as members. Hilary McGrady (Director General) and Mark Harold (Director, Land & Nature) represented the Trust.
The meeting came after the narrow defeat of the motion to ban hunting on National Trust land at its AGM in October 2017 as a result of the Chair’s use of discretionary votes allocated to him, and at the end of the latest hunting season which was characterised by the misbehaviour of hunts and the failure of the Trust to adequately implement even the limited measures promised to members ahead of the vote. While we welcomed the opportunity to meet Hilary McGrady, the need to do so simply reflected the lack of robust action taken since the AGM.
We were told Ms McGrady wanted to hear from all sides, so she could get up to speed with the issue of hunting. Given the track record of many of the previously licensed hunts and those licensed last season, we looked to hear an explanation of why the Trustees would continue to persist in their illogical and callous position of maintaining hunts are responsible and trustworthy whilst disregarding the huge raft of evidence supplied to them by National Dis-Trust, other Trust members, animal welfare charities, hunt monitors and saboteurs.
It was confirmed at the meeting that the licensing system will be reviewed before next autumn’s AGM but will not revisit the decision to allow hunting on Trust land. Describing its ambition to reach a place where it can trust hunts, the Trust does not appear to accept that its view, that the majority of hunts behave responsibly, is fatally undermined by the extensive evidence provided to it at all levels prior to the vote and by the experience of this season, and maintained that it requires its own evidence of irresponsible or illegal behaviour.
The Trust’s failure to live up to the limited promises made to members ahead of last year’s vote has been deeply disappointing and the explanations for this remain unsatisfactory. The granting of licences to hunts with a poor track record, including trespassing and even killing foxes on National Trust land, is the clearest example of the deficiencies of the current system. While the Trust has accepted in some instances that the Board of Trustees reversed its position on some elements of its statement on which members based their vote, it has failed to recognise the lack of respect this represents for the democratic process and for those members who participated in it in good faith.
When asked why the Trustees had decided to change the wording of license requirements, leaving members in the same position as prior to the vote, we were told they changed their minds. It seems they did not consider the implications of the statement prior to the AGM or had another motive for doing so, this in the full knowledge that advising members to vote against the resolution would have a significant impact on how they would vote.
Although we were told the Trustees took this subject very seriously, there was no new system in place to monitor the hunts who were hastily granted licenses last season. We were told that staff had kept an eye on things, but couldn’t be everywhere. It seemed that the Trust are unwilling or unable to address the number of hunts who have trespassed and yet then rewarded them when applying for licenses.
Having not meaningfully taken account of the track records of the hunts it has licensed and not even attempted to monitor their activity on Trust land, it is difficult to imagine that the upcoming Review will be fully informed or effective. The most we have been given to expect is that the Trust may finally adhere to some of the conditions it promised its members and that it will begin to monitor the activity of hunts on its land. However, the potential monitoring system as described to us is unlikely to be credible and there is little reason to expect much improvement elsewhere considering these are the same issues we have been highlighting over and over to no avail since last year.
Sadly this new system will involve each hunt being monitored just once a season, with binoculars! The non-animal scent will be sampled at the same time. Hardly a robust system, particularly as hunts will be prewarned. To choose such an ineffectual approach is a slap in the face to members who still hoped to see signs that the statement by the Trustees was in good faith.
We welcomed the opportunity to place salient facts before Hilary McGrady, including a huge body of written and video evidence. However, we remain extremely sceptical that those supposedly hunting a fox-based scent with purpose-trained hounds when off Trust land will hunt an artificial scent whilst on it. Hilary McGrady agreed that without close monitoring none of us can be really sure how hunts operate on the more remote estates. The nature of the scent supposedly used by hunts on Trust land is frankly irrelevant if we cannot ascertain the hounds are trained to pursue anything but fox.
The hunts are as aware as we are that animals continue to be killed by hounds “accidentally”, surprising no one apart from the Trustees it seems. We await answers to several written questions, which we look forward to receiving from the Trust. Those members who are rapidly becoming more familiar with the barbaric realities of hunting with hounds continue to look forward to an era when the Trust genuinely takes note of those who are expert in the field of monitoring illegal hunting and advising on trespass. We hope for a time when the governance process reflects a genuine desire to respond to member opinions, rather than a situation where members have no opportunity to speak to the Trustees directly other than after they have decided their way forward and with resolutions, whatever their outcome, being considered as simply indicators of opinion, which could easily have been ascertained by the number of petitions and member demonstrations we have seen and which will continue until the Trust stop supporting savagely cruel and outdated activities.
© Helen Beynon 24.04.18
NOTE: We will be publishing an Overview of this meeting at the end of this week.
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