Natural Resources Wales trail hunting ban to continue
Richard Youle, Local Democracy Reporter
A ban on trail hunting on land owned by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) will continue, despite a criminal conviction for a director of a foxhounds group in England being overturned.
NRW decided to introduce a ban on trail hunting, which simulates illegal traditional hunting, on its land last November.
It felt there was a lack of confidence about how trail hunting could be overseen following the conviction of the-then director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, Mark Hankinson, for encouraging illegal fox-hunting while presenting a webinar to an audience including police officers, lawyers and a member of the House of Lords in August 2020.
NRW board members were also worried about the resources that would be required to ensure that trail hunting would be carried legally and in accordance with conditions. Another consideration was the view of Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths, who wanted NRW to consider a permanent trail hunting ban on Welsh Government-owned land.
The subject was back for discussion at a board meeting on September 22 after a court overturned the conviction of Mr Hankinson, of Sherbourne, Dorset, two months ago.
Board members were asked to endorse a decision by NRW’s executive team not to review its November ban decision, and also commit to developing a recreation strategy on NRW land.
A board report said non conviction-related factors which had informed the ban decision last November had not changed, and that landowners such as the National Trust had not changed their position.
Neither had the minister changed her view, it said, since Mr Hankinson’s successful appeal.
Board member Zoe Henderson said she was concerned that the report did not present any evidence of illegal hunting, and called for NRW to reverse its decision.
She said trail hunting was a “wonderful way of moving our heritage into the future”.
She said: “It is a healthy, exciting, fun sport. There is no evidence produced whatsoever about this decision and it should be reversed.”
She proposed that the board discussed the matter with organisations which had contacted it and ask for assurances that trail hunting would not be a cover for illegal hunting.
She said legal hunting was “incredibly supportive” for the rural economy, helping to collect dead livestock for example.
‘Driven to despair’
Fellow board member Geraint Davies said that as a farmer he felt the views of those who worked on the land were being “pushed further away”, and that people who made decisions on rural life “don’t have the first clue” about it. Farmers, he said, were being driven to despair.
“As an organisation we need to be very confident in the decisions we make,” said Mr Davies.
Some other board members expressed sympathy for these views, with Professor Peter Rigby suggesting that the trail hunting decision should be revisited as part of the wider recreation strategy being developed.
Board chairman Sir David Henshaw said the countryside way of life in Wales was a critical part of the economy, and that it was wrong to suggest that a metropolitan agenda was dominating NRW’s thinking.
Sir David said these were difficult issues, and that he would meet organisations which had made representations and also raise the trail hunting matter with the minister next week. But the ban on NRW land remains in force.
The recreation strategy will set out long-term objectives and principles under which certain activities could be promoted. A draft strategy is expected to be brought to the board for consideration in the middle of next year.
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