Trail hunting FAQs
Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions on trail 'hunting', as well as some useful background information.
Do we allow fox hunting on our land?
No. Hunting wild mammals with dogs was banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act of 2004: National Trust land is no exception.
The law does allow what is known as trail hunting to continue. This activity involves people on foot or horseback following a scent along a pre-determined route with hounds or beagles. It effectively replicates a traditional hunt but without a fox being chased, injured or killed.
The Trust does licence trail hunting in some areas and at certain times of the year, where it is compatible with our aims of public access and conservation.
Anybody who uses our land must comply with the law, regardless of whether they do so under our licence conditions or under rights retained when the property was transferred to the Trust.
How do groups apply for a licence to trail hunt on our land?
Any group that wishes to apply for a licence must submit an application form to their local Estate Manager in the first instance. The standard licence permits a maximum of five dates per season. Each additional date granted incurs a further charge.
Completed application forms should be accompanied by a number of supporting documents, – such as proof of insurance and written permissions from tenants. These documents are then reviewed along with the potential impacts on our conservation and access objectives in order to determine whether a licence will be issued.
There is a presumption against issuing licenses to those who have committed the most serious breaches of our licence conditions or deliberately sought to circumvent our licensing process in the previous season. There is no set timeframe in which a decision will be made.
Why do we ban animal-based scents?
We believe it's right to minimise as far as possible the risk of foxes or any wild animal being accidentally chased during a trail hunt; moving to artificial scents is part of achieving that aim. It is up to the groups themselves to decide which artificial scent they use, and we will check this periodically.
How will hounds or beagles trained with fox scent be retrained? Will they become useless for hunts?
Our licence system for all outdoor activities places the onus on the parties undertaking the activity. How they retrain is a matter for the trail hunting groups themselves. We believe it's right to reduce as far as possible the risk of foxes or any wild animal being accidentally chased.
How do our licence conditions regard hounds, hunt followers and terrier men?
The licensed trail hunt is responsible, under the conditions of the licence, for the behaviour of the hounds and followers associated with it. This means that bad behaviour from followers or hounds will affect our decision as to whether to licence, or continue to licence, a trail hunt. Terrier men have no place in a trail hunt and are explicitly prohibited under our licence conditions.
How are ceremonial meets on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day licensed?
The ceremonial meets that take place at some of our sites on dates including Boxing Day and New Year’s Day do so under strict conditions. Groups must still apply for an ‘activity licence’ to access our land. We only grant any licence after assessing the potential impact on conservation and visitor access.
As these meets are just ceremonial events, with any trail hunting happening on land that we do not manage, these activity licences do not mirror all of the details in our full licences.
However, should these groups intend to use our land for trail hunting, they must apply separately for our standard trail hunting licence.
Publishing information on our website
Where do you publish information?
As a charity with five million members, we believe we should be transparent and share information of public interest in an easily accessible way.
We publish details of the areas, together with the dates on which trail hunts are licensed to take place on our list of licensed trail hunts. Changes to licensed dates within season can be granted at the Trust’s discretion. We will update the website listings accordingly throughout the season.
In addition, all trail hunting groups are required to provide an email address to enable members of the public to contact them with questions regarding trail hunting dates and locations on our land, which can also be found on that page.
Why do we publish trail hunting areas and not specific trail routes?
We've always required groups to be transparent and provide details of where and when the activity will take place.
Information on our website includes details of the specific dates and licensed areas on which trail hunting is permitted to take place. This provides transparency for visitors to make informed decisions over whether they want to avoid or see this activity in defined areas on specific days of the year.
Following discussions with a range of stakeholders, including the police, we do not publish details of start and end points, or specific routes. The decision was made in order to protect public safety by minimising the potential for confrontation between groups of differing opinions and the potential for public disorder. We do not publish details of ‘ceremonial meet’ events for the same reason – i.e. they happen at a specific location and time.
How do we monitor licensed trail hunting?
Our staff will be carrying out on the ground monitoring of licensed trail hunting, including random scent sampling and unannounced spot checks. If any of the terms of our licence agreements are proven to have been breached during these checks, we will take strong, immediate action with the relevant group. In the 2018/19 season we monitored two-thirds of licensed dates and groups. All scent samples were laboratory tested to confirm they were non-animal based.
Under what circumstances do we suspend trail hunting licences?
Any potential breaches in our licensing regime are taken very seriously. We will always establish the facts from all relevant parties before concluding any investigation. We may issue warnings, suspend or even cancel licences when we determine conditions have been broken or where we have lost confidence in a group's ability to adhere to the conditions.
In the 2018/19 season we cancelled two licenses for severe/cumulative breaches of our conditions and issued several warnings. We also warned anti-hunt individuals and groups for specific actions or incidents. We removed a number of social media posts for inappropriate content and reported two cases of vandalism and intimidation at our properties to the police.
We will not go into detail over specific allegations and are not able to provide updates on confidential investigations. If anyone witnesses anything that they suspect to be illegal, we advise them to contact the police directly, in addition to reporting the incident to National Trust staff.
What happens if our tenants give permission for a trail hunt without our knowledge?
We keep in regular contact with our tenant farmers. Since the creation of trail hunting post-2004 Hunting Act, we've led on licensing this type of outdoor activity; tenants have never been the licensor. Trail hunting groups need to seek permission from the Trust directly but we also ask them to gain tenants' consent for any activity likely to cross their occupied land. Tenant farmer permissions are given in writing.
Unlicensed trail hunting
Are we aware of reports of unlicensed trail hunting on Trust land and what are we doing about it?
We take any reports of unlicensed trail hunting on our land very seriously and we seek urgent clarification from the relevant groups.
Groups understand that they need to apply for a licence if they wish to use Trust land. The majority of groups are responsible and recognise the importance of working with us to ensure this lawful activity takes place in a safe way, within the law. Clearly, it is unacceptable to disregard the long-established rules and wilfully disregard landowners.
Will we take legal action if unlicensed incursions continue?
Our staff record any incidents where unlicensed trail hunting takes place. We take any validated reports of such incidents seriously and they are considered on a case by case basis dependent on the available facts and evidence and having consideration to our obligations as a charity. Trail hunting groups, like other groups, do not require licences to cross our land if they remain on bridle ways, public footpaths, or other public rights of way.
Is there a link between the spread of bovine TB and trail hunting?
Bovine TB is a complex disease and can be transmitted by a number of means. Dogs, just like all other mammals, can be infected with bTB but are much less likely to be as infectious as badgers. If dogs were considered a risk to cattle in terms of spreading bTB, this would have been identified and raised as a concern by Defra and farming groups. This has not happened.
We are not aware of any causal relationship between trail hunting and bTB breakdowns amongst cattle herds. Even if there was an association between, say, the number of trail hunting events and the incidence of breakdowns within the same parish that does not mean one caused the other. Many other factors could be involved. We will however keep this under review and as always be led by the evidence.