The National Trust has been urged to wake up “to the reality of trail hunting” as its members voted on a motion to ban it.
Concerns have been raised that the lawful activity is being used as a “smokescreen” for chasing and killing foxes.
At its annual meeting in Harrogate on Saturday, trust members were asked to vote for or against a resolution to ban it on their land.
Those who proposed the resolution stated that “overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that ‘trail hunting’ is a cover for hunting with dogs”.
The Hunting Act 2004 banned hunting with dogs.
Trail hunting simulates a traditional hunt without foxes being deliberately chased or killed by laying an artificial scent for riders.
In November last year the trust and Forestry England suspended licences for trail hunting on their land in response to a police investigation into webinars involving huntsmen discussing the practice.
Saturday’s vote comes just two weeks after a prominent huntsman was convicted after giving advice about how to covertly carry out illegal fox hunts.
Director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association Mark Hankinson was found guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court of intentionally encouraging huntsmen to use legal trail hunting as “a sham and a fiction” for the unlawful chasing and killing of animals via two webinars held in August 2020.
The huntsman’s illicit advice was exposed after saboteurs leaked footage to police and the media of the online discussions.
He was ordered to pay £3,500, with the judge concluding that he was “clearly encouraging the mirage of trail laying to act as cover for old fashioned illegal hunting”.
Demonstrators from the League Against Cruel Sports gathered outside Harrogate Convention Centre to show their support for the banning the activity.
The results of the vote are not binding on the board, but the trustees are expected to consider the outcome following the AGM.
During a short debate on the motion, one attendee representing the Countryside Alliance, said that organisation believes the trust “should not be discriminating” against anyone who “wishes to partake in a lawful activity”.
Polly Portwin said: “Members of the trust should recognise that there is no justification for banning these activities, when they are lawful and are being conducted in line with the trust policy.”
She said the hunting community “remains committed” to working with the trust to “ensure that everyone can have confidence that any trailhunting is open, transparent and legitimate”.
Another attendee, who identified himself as Will from Hampshire, referred to the Hankinson conviction and judge’s remarks.
He said: “I think it’s time that the National Trust woke up to the reality of trail hunting.”
The results of the vote are expected later on Saturday afternoon.
Opening the AGM, the trust’s director general Hilary McGrady paid tribute to volunteers, staff and members who have continued to support the organisation during the pandemic, which saw every property forced to close for the first time in the organisation’s 126-year history.
Looking forward to the future, she said 2022 is “set to be an extraordinary year of national events” including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and Commonwealth Games, adding that the trust “will be proudly joining in”.