A petition calling on Forestry England to permanently ban "trail hunt" licences has now passed 75,000 signatures and is on track to reach 100,000. The petition set up by Keep The Ban calls on the organisation to stand up to the hunts and permanently protect wildlife following their decision to temporarily suspend hunting licences was made at the end of last year.

"Forestry England has a decision to make. Forestry England can choose to turn the temporary suspensions into permanent ones and prevent any more so-called trail hunts from using their land and killing wildlife or they can reinstate the licences and continue to allow the “smokescreen” for illegal activity to take place."

It is of little surprise that so many have already added their name in support of our landowners campaign. Thanks to the work of the Hunt Saboteur Association in releasing leaked Hunting Office webinars the lie that is "trail hunting" was well and truly exposed like never before and led to nationwide press coverage. As a result many major landowners including Forestry England and the National Trust responded by temporarily suspending all hunting licences following the outcome of the police investigation into the webinars.

We are calling on Forestry England to make these suspensions permanent and to stand up to those intent on using their land to persecute wildlife.

Background to our Forestry England campaign

Since the 2004 Hunting Act was introduced, so-called “trail hunts” up and down the country have continued to use the farcical lie of trail laying as a means of covering up the deliberate and intentional killing of wild mammals.

Whilst of course we welcome the move by Forestry England to suspend trail hunt licences pending the outcome of the police investigation, it does seem that the decision has come many years too late. Time and time again evidence has been presented of hunts breaking the law and yet landowners have continued to hide behind the trail hunt lies. Only when confronted by insurmountable pressure from the public and mainstream media, following the leaked webinars, has Forestry England chosen to save face and make a decision that should have been made years earlier. It goes without saying that countless animals that could have otherwise been saved have died as a result of the continued allowance of trail hunts.

Even before the leaked footage of senior hunt officials was released, there existed an abundance of evidence that hunts previously licenced by all of the major landowners in this country have acted unlawfully. Indeed, two of the hunts previously given access to Forestry England land have been associated with convictions under the Hunting and Animal Welfare Acts. One only needs to look to accounts on the ground of monitors and hunt saboteurs to understand the sheer scale of illegal hunting in this country. As if this wasn’t enough, in the words of Mark Hankinson, Director of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association;

“I think the most important thing that we need to bear in mind is that if you’ve got saboteurs out with you in any shape or form we need to have clear visible plausible trail laying being done throughout the day”

Followed up by the words of former Master of the Old Surrey and Burstow Hunt– “by collating evidence and having a good trail laying team it was vital that we had that, which would enable us then to be able to go and do what we all want to go and do. So this wasn’t about turning the Old Surrey, Burstow and West Kent into a trail laying pack, it was about giving us the support and protection that we needed.”

If it wasn’t clear before that trail hunting was a “smokescreen” for fox hunting, then it is now at the point beyond any reasonable doubt.

Forestry England has a decision to make. Forestry England can choose to turn the temporary suspensions into permanent ones and prevent any more so-called trail hunts from using their land and killing wildlife or they can reinstate the licences and continue to allow the “smokescreen” for illegal activity to take place. As a nation of animal lovers, we have a real opportunity to protect our wildlife and only a permanent ban will help secure a future free from the persecution and killing of wild mammals.

Rob Pownall

Founder of Keep The Ban