The vote by the National Trust to continue to allow hunting with dogs on its land came as something of a surprise to many long standing members of an organisation who saw it as fair and equitable, not only on issues of animal welfare, but also in terms of the proper representation of its paid up supporters.
The vote was eventually swung in favour of the hunters by a mere 299 votes of which 3,460 were so called ‘discretionary’ votes granted by members to be used by the board and trustees. These votes were essentially proxies used by the National Trust to overrule the clearly apparent opinion of its members to introduce the ban with 28,629 voting for it and 27,525 against.
It was also suspected that many pro-hunt lobbyists from organisations such as the Countryside Alliance suddenly discovered a love for ancient buildings and joined The Trust in the weeks running up to the vote.
It’s fair to say that both sides of the argument probably took these same essentially vote-rigging measures, which raises the question of why The Trust didn’t introduce a qualifying period of membership for eligibility. Perhaps having votes on controversial subjects like this is a clever way to get more cash in the coffers and boost the membership numbers!
In any event, it’s clear from the anger of many members that The Trust’s use of proxy votes has not done it any favours. Many of them are vowing to cancel their membership and there are already numerous tweets and Facebook updates showing cut up membership cards.
This is of course just playing into the hands of the pro-hunt lobby. Every anti-hunt vote abandoned now is simply one less in the ballot box next time around. Those of us in the hunting ban camp should not allow our voices to be silenced by the opaque and potentially undemocratic nature of the National Trust’s behaviour over this matter.
The belief by many of those who opposed the ban is that drag or trail hunting does no harm and is part of the culture of the countryside. Those of us who oppose hunting know this is as much of a fantasy as it always was.
The hunting ban is regularly flouted by hunts across the country. The League Against Cruel Sports has evidence of many hunts deliberately chasing foxes with dogs. They’ve also been known to attack and kill other animals including hares, deer and domestic animals.
The excuse on each of these occasions is that the dogs have accidentally got on to the scent and could not be controlled. That raises the question of exactly how safe it is to have packs of dangerous animals roaming around the countryside with an uncontrollable blood-lust driving such behaviour. And the dogs are obviously another danger to consider.
Far from the hunt being a much loved countryside pursuit, it’s detested by many of us who live in rural areas and those whose land the hunt regularly trespasses on. I have friends who have been injured on their own land by careless riders along with their own animals. These were not just protesters, but people who happened to get in the way. In areas like the Lake District controversies surrounding the hunt are tearing communities apart and the National Trust themselves have documented reports of hunts damaging conservation areas.
Video evidence from hunt saboteurs shows outrageous and violent behaviour from hunters and their entourage, not only towards animals that they are not supposed to be chasing, but to onlookers, protesters and even land owners themselves.
Incidents reported to the police rarely result in charges or convictions against those involved. The complaint is that the law is difficult to enforce as it’s hard to prove intent.
The pro-hunt lobby insists that the Hunting Act is badly drafted piece of legislation that should be overturned. I actually agree, but only in favour of a much more straightforward ban on all hunting with dogs, including drag or or trail hunts.
Hunt members across the country have had 10 years to prove that they can be responsible citizens and obey the law of the land and many have repeatedly shown that they can’t. In that sense many of them are no better than common recidivist criminals such as burglars or credit card skimmers.
As with any such criminal behaviour the answer is not to simply legalise house-breaking or credit card fraud, that might make the job of the police easier, but it wouldn’t be popular with the general public.
What we need is an enforceable law, properly applied. To that end I can see no option but to stop hunting with dogs altogether. If you’re caught out in the countryside with a pack of dogs, you’re arrested, plain and simple.
Let’s stop overlooking and facilitating the lawlessness of people who don’t think the law applies to them in exactly same way as we crack down on drunk drivers or those who repeatedly break speed limits. We take away their right to do the thing that leads to their antisocial behaviour.
I’m all for personal freedom and countryside pursuits. But when those pursuits lead to injury and death of both humans and animals, it’s time to call a halt. It’s a shame that the National Trust didn’t take a lead on that but the fight is not over.
I’ve been a Trust member for over 20 years and as an animal rights advocate I voted for the ban. I’m disappointed at the outcome, but I’m not abandoning my membership. I’m calling on The Trust to be more transparent and representative of its members in the future and for it to make all future votes a simple case of a majority decision of voting members with a minimum membership period of 1 year.
The majority of this country are opposed to hunting with dogs and it’s time they were listened to. Even the majority of MPs support the current hunting ban, which is why several attempts by various new PMs to get it overturned have failed.
The closeness of the NT vote demonstrated the mood of the country, eventually the government will have to recognise that and take firmer and, above all, enforceable action.