Trail-Hunting was born out of the Hunting Act in 2004. When real hunting became illegal, and animals were no longer allowed to be chased for miles and ripped apart, the hunting world clearly felt that ‘Drag Hunting’ wasn’t enough for their blood thirst. They needed something as close to the real thing as possible, as drag hunting doesn’t traditionally involve an animal or an animal scent, it simply involves a scent being laid by a drag pulled on a string, which the hounds chase.  

So, when the Hunting Act came into play, trail-hunting was adopted as an alternative method which involves the laying of an animal-based scent. The reasoning for these hunts adopting this new form of 'fake' hunting, is known to us as the creation of a loophole in the law. Something it doesn’t take a detective to work out- although law enforcement seem to be comfortable with this law being broken.  

Some suggest the trail-hunting scent is laid using a material that is laced with an animal's urine. Others have been known to suggest body parts or carcasses are sometimes laid.

Those who have the responsibility of laying these trails, are known to either not lay them at all, or place them next to where wild animals are inhabiting, for example outside a fox den. This therefore makes it convenient for a hunt to ‘accidentally’ find a fox and the ‘out of control hounds’ to accidentally rip it to shreds, thus engaging in traditional hunting behind closed doors.  

One of the many red flags with the trail-hunting story is the artificial scent. Obtaining a foxes or any animals urine in such large quantities to use on a weekly basis, by hundreds of hunts, doesn’t sound simple. There isn’t much information available as to how these hunts attain this urine, as they obviously don’t. This concern is no longer relevant since the public expośe of trail-hunting.

Most people will have heard about the leaked Hunting Office Webinars that circulated online. This was a meeting of those high up in the Hunting World, discussing trail-hunting and how to use it as a ‘smokescreen’ to illegally hunt. The webinar discusses the importance of appearing to lay a trail when hunt saboteurs are around. This is something we knew before they leaked it to the world, as hunt saboteurs who go out weekly still witness foxes being chased or killed, but the leak was helpful in having hard evidence for the world to see.

Before the webinar leaked in December, the hunts were successfully getting around the law and killing wild animals freely. They were using trail-hunting as a protective blanket from any criticism or retribution. Major landowners across the country were complicit or ignorant, and were issuing trail-hunting licences to these hunts. These landowners include the likes of the National Trust and Forestry England who are meant to be concerned with nature. Following the leaked webinars some of these landowners temporarily suspended licences, but this is not enough.

The National Trust

The National Trust, who were one of the landowners to put in place a trail-hunting 'pause', have the following ethos; "we look after the places you love, from houses, buildings and gardens to coast and countryside. Join us and help protect them".

They have a huge reputation and following. The bulk of this following are nature and wildlife lovers. National Trust members donate towards the protection of nature, and visit National Trust land for walks and to be near wildlife. It is therefore hypocritical that they allow such a murky industry to use their land as a playground, and will therefore be even more hypocritical and shocking should they do anything other than permanently suspend these licences as a next step. However, we don't have much faith in the National Trust as it is known that in 2017 at a National Trust AGM, the 'charity recommended its members vote against the (trail-hunting) ban. This position won. Although members favoured a ban, discretionary votes cast mostly by board members swayed the result." (The Canary)

It is pretty clear the National Trust are in the pocket of the hunts and have little intention of permanently suspending trail-hunting licences. They seemingly only put a pause on issuing these due to the police investigation and media outcry.

If you look at their website, it is covered in 'cute' photos used to market them as a caring nature-loving trust. They have photos of wild hares and baby ducks, which the hunt would no doubt love to get their hands on. The 'nature' section on their website states "Nature gives us so much, donate today and help us protect these precious places and the wildlife that lives there". It's clear that while they have been receiving donations from the public to help them 'protect wildlife' they have simultaneously been receiving money from hunts to kill wildlife. Just a slight conflict of interest... and surely unwelcome news to any regular donators.

Ban trail-hunts for good

We’d love to say that after the leaked webinar things changed, but they didn't. Hunts still go out ‘trail-hunting’ and ‘accidentally’ killing foxes regularly, they appear to be untouchable. Major landowners have barely shifted, we only saw a few of them temporarily suspend licences. Others didn’t budge at all. It is fair to say that the fuel behind these temporary suspensions would have been due to personal reputation. It is also fair to say that the fuel behind not permanently suspending licences will be due to the financial gain in issuing these licences.

Keep The Ban is calling on these major landowners to permanently suspend these licences, as this is the only option now the webinars have revealed what’s truly going on. A petition has been launched aimed at these major landowners.

We have heard enough robotic responses from landowners who either say ‘trail-hunting is legal’ or ‘we have temporarily suspended trail-hunting licences’. The director of The Master of Foxhounds Association has been charged with his involvement in the leaked webinar, but the landowners still like to suggest they have done all they can and that trail-hunting is perfectly plausible.

These landowners have had blood on their hands the entire time, but this blood is now public, and the world now knows what is going on behind closed doors. It is time for these landowners to give up the act and if not do what's best for wildlife and their customers, do what’s best for their reputations that are only going to get more and more damaged in keeping a relationship with the hunting world.

Amy Schouwenburg

Head of Social Media