Anti-hunt activists have failed in their efforts to ban all hunting on National Trust land.
Campaigners argued before the historic vote on Saturday that the move would help to stop illegal hunting, such as fox hunting, by taking away large areas of land for hunts to access.
But pro-hunt supporters say that trail hunting is a legal activity and have accused the National Trust of “distancing itself from the rural community to appease metropolitan sensibilities”.
The number of votes against the motion to ban trail hunting was 30,985. Votes favour of the motion to ban was 30,686.
Activists seized on the small margin to claim the National Trust swung the decision in its favour by using “discretionary votes”.
Philippa King, acting CEO of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “The Trust claims to protect our countryside but they have singularly failed to do that. This is a massive backward step for justice and a shot in the arm for cruelty.”
What is trail hunting?
Trail hunting is when the artificial scent of an animal is laid.
It is legal in the UK, but the League Against Cruel Sports argues that the act is a “cover up” for illegal hunting and did not exist in Britain until the Hunting Act 2004 was passed.
National Trust members have been voting online and by post for weeks, with the final vote taking place at 3pm on Saturday.
The League Against Cruel Sports said the passing of the motion means that 67 hunts which have previously been issued with licences to hunt on Trust land will be prevented from doing so in the future.
King said ahead of the vote: “The National Trust claims no illegal hunting takes place on their land but we believe they are either being deceived or not paying attention.
“This motion was brought by a National Trust member who witnessed illegal hunting on Trust land. The League and others have produced over 400 pages of reports and evidence to support this motion.
“The National Trust is a treasured institution which does wonderful work, but it has allowed itself to be embarrassed by the hunting fraternity.”
The supporting statement to the motion read:
“Since hunting with dogs became illegal in 2005, the National Trust has issued licences for ‘trail hunting’ in which, allegedly, an artificial trail is laid for the hunt to follow. The supporters of this resolution however believe that enough evidence is now available to show that illegal hunting is taking place on National Trust land on a regular basis.
“We believe this is leading to regular wildlife crime as well as damage to important flora and fauna. We believe that those being issued ‘trail hunting’ licences are severely damaging the Trust’s reputation, and that existing guidelines, bylaws and enforcement practices are having no impact. The policy of issuing ‘trail hunting’ licences should, therefore, be stopped immediately.”
The motion was not supported by the National Trust’s board of trustees, who said they “monitor activities that we have licensed, to ensure that they remain compatible with our conservation and access purposes”.
The trustees said in a statement: “We will take, and have taken, strong action (including suspension, revoking and refusing to grant further licenses) against any licence holders who we judge have breached their licence conditions or the law.”
The National Trust issued 79 licences to 67 hunts last year.
Trustees said that they have taken action against trail hunts on six occasions in the last five years.
“It is hard therefore to agree that singling this legal activity out for blanket prohibition represents a proportionate response,” the trustees said ahead of the vote.
It is estimated that there are approximately 300 hunts in England and Wales.