At the end of September 2017 the Malvern Hills Trust (formerly the Malvern Hills Conservators) authorised a new policy on hunting (the previous one being in place since the 1980s). This follows various incidents filmed by our sabs over the seasons and further exposure and collation of evidence by Fox Hunt Off Malvern Hills. It also follows drafts of the policy being commented on by ourselves, Fox Hunt Off Malvern Hills, the League Against Cruel Sports and ’round table meetings’ with representatives of both the Ledbury Hunt and the Croome and West Warwickshire Hunt, both of whom disputed the Trust’s powers to restrict access for hunts – the Ledbury Hunt even getting a solicitor involved.
The main points talked about include:
– activities mentioned in Schedule 1 of the Hunting Act (i.e. ‘the Gamekeepers’ Exemption’, flushing to a bird of prey, etc) are not permitted on the land, only following a false scent
– permission must be sought at least a month before the first planned event – maximum of 4 events allowed in total between October 1st and January 31st
– details of the exact route that the scent trail will be laid must be submitted at least 10 days in advance of each event and the huntsman or master must have full knowledge of the route (the area may also be made public)
– trails must not be laid through covert and hounds must be encouraged to keep moving and not be allowed to loiter in covert, scrub, gorse, undergrowth, thicket
A future ‘Dog Walking (group) policy’ may also be written up which would cover dog walking / actual hound exercise. The policy also states which areas of land may be used, stopping hunts from using certain areas that they have previously run to.
Comments made on the drafts included the Ledbury contesting that ‘submitting written applications’ for events would be applicable to them; they also worried that ‘other [non-hunting] groups’ might try to block-book hunting spaces to push them out (errr… we think they didn’t read the section properly).
The Ledbury also stated that they did not use quad bikes during the 2016 – 2017 season… MHT staff comments included that they had photographic evidence of the quad (and ‘masked operator’) being present on two occasions during that winter. Hunts are expressly told that terriermen are not permitted to operate on MHT land and that the driving of quadbikes over MHT land is against the bylaws. The MHT are very aware that the hunt were lying about their use of quadbikes.
When the hunt suggested that MHT staff have no legal requirement to attend and monitor meets, MHT state that having been informed of an event that may conflict with their bylaws they have a duty to so monitor the event.
It’s good that the hunt have confirmed that hounds ‘are well trained and kept under control by experienced professional hunt staff. A contravention of the bylaws would only occur if there was a deliberate act by the hunt staff to let hounds hunt’. Presumably this applies to all hunt meets and every time hunt staff have seen hounds chase foxes and allowed it to continue!
While the policy has some similarities with the policy proposed by the National Trust (and which many of us have issues with) there are some fairly important differences which have made us far happier with the policy adopted by MHT. One of these is the fact that MHT staff have been, and will continue to be, present at meets to ensure that the route is being stuck to. Last season already showed great changes to the hunt when on the hills, stopping hounds when they picked up on scents and having somewhat less terriermen-presence. Additionally the area concerned is far smaller and easier to monitor than NT land. The MHT have also made much more of an effort to learn about how hunts work than the National Trust who appear to be far more trusting and naïve (or well aware of what’s going on).
We’ll see how it goes into the future – at least the 4 or so days on which the hunt will be on the land will be 4 or so days on which we know where they are and may even just be able to have locals out monitoring the route taken as opposed to need to have sabs in the area!