CONSERVATIONISTS are calling for trail hunting to be banned on National Trust properties after ‘chaos’ ensued during a Warwickshire hunt.
Chair of Warwickshire Badger Group (WBG) Denise Hunt went to observe the hunt in Avon Dassett along with West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs, who claimed Warwickshire Hunt’s hounds spooked a rhea causing it to flee from a nearby farm.
A video of the incident, captured by the saboteurs, has circulated social media in which a man can be heard trying to calm the rhea – a large, flightless bird which is related to the ostrich – and saying the hunt was not supposed to be there.
According to saboteurs the hunt was headed to the nearby Farnborough Hall trust property for licenced trail-hunting, although did not carry on there after the incident.
Ms Hunt claimed she saw two foxes fleeing from ‘out of control’ hounds and saw hunters ‘in pursuit’.
She says this was at odds with trail hunting, which involves a scent trail being laid for the hounds to follow rather than pursuing foxes.
She added: “During our time observing the hunt we saw no evidence of trail laying. Indeed, in the areas that we witnessed being hunted, it would have been impossible to lay a trail, and as the trespass on to the land where the rheas were being kept was not the first incident, I would have thought the hunt would have avoided this area completely if they were laying a trail.
“If the hunt cannot control their hounds enough to prevent them from trespassing then the question has to be asked whether they should be out hunting at all when they are such a risk to the general public, local residents and smallholders, let alone disturbing and killing wildlife accidental or otherwise.”
The Warwickshire Hunt has denied claims it was operating illegally.
A spokesman said: “The Warwickshire Hunt was operating within the law and was using two of the Hunting Act Exemptions namely trail hunting and hound exercise at Avon Dassett.
“If there is evidence of illegal activities then we would suggest that these are reported to the police with evidence. The allegations are unfounded.
“The West Midlands Saboteurs sole objective is to portray the hunt and its activities in the worst possible light. They are saboteurs and do harass and abuse our members. We have evidence confirming such behaviour. Furthermore this interferes with us conducting our activities within the law.”
He added the hunting event was supporting Breast Cancer UK and the saboteur’s presence was inappropriate and disrespectful.
Ms Hunt said if the Warwickshire Hunt was trail hunting it was not made clear.
She told the Observer: “It is clear to us that the Warwickshire Hunt needs to come under further scrutiny from the police and from communities where they operate to ensure they remain within the law.
“If they really are trail hunting then why can they not demonstrate this to the public quite clearly? It would be very easy to invite members of the public and saboteurs out with them when they lay the trails and show that they are sticking to these.
“If they did remain within the law, we wouldn’t have to endure the chaos on rural roads, and rheas escaping from smallholdings where the hunt has expressly been banned from entering.”
WBG and West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs is calling for the trail hunting license granted by the National Trust to be ‘revoked immediately’.
The National Trust said while it licences trail hunting in some areas it takes seriously potential breaches of licensing.
A spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on individual cases or on activity which takes place on private land outside of our ownership.
“Any allegations of suspected illegal activity should always be passed to the police directly in addition to notifying the trust.”