Thank you for contacting me about the Hunting Act 2004. I appreciate that this issue is highly emotive and I share your concern for the welfare of our wildlife.
The Hunting Act 2004 makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with dogs except where it is carried out in accordance with the exemptions in the Act. I know that those found guilty under the Act are subject to the full force of the law. The investigation and prosecution of all criminal offences, including consideration of whether an actual offence has been committed, is a matter for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, who have comprehensive powers to take action under criminal law. I was elected in 2019 on a manifesto which committed to not amending this Act.
Since the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004, many hunts have turned to trail hunting as an alternative to live quarry hunting. This involves a pack of hounds following an artificially laid, animal-based scent. It closely mimics the hunting that took place before the ban, but does not involve a hunt for a live fox, and therefore is not banned. For an offence to be committed it is necessary to prove that a wild animal is being hunted intentionally. If proven, this can lead to a prosecution and an unlimited fine. Between 2013 and 2019, a total of 471 individuals were prosecuted under the Hunting Act and 227 individuals were found guilty.
Of course, anyone who believes that an offence has taken place during a hunt, including during a trail hunt, should report the matter to the police.
As I am sure you can appreciate, issuing a licence or giving permission for trail hunting is an operational matter for the landowner, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not play a central role in this. It is up to each Local Authority to decide whether trail hunting can take place on public land within its jurisdiction. Likewise, it is up to an individual public body to decide what activity takes place on its land. I know, for example, Nottinghamshire County Council banned trail hunting on its land in 2019, the National Trust is no longer issuing trail hunting licences and Forestry England can suspend events or stop them completely if illegal activity takes place. There are no plans to change the law on trail hunting across England and Wales.
Trail and drag hunting on the Defence estate remain legal activities provided they are carried out within the provisions of the Hunting Act 2004. A range of people and activities are allowed access to the Ministry of Defence estate subject to prior controls. You might be interested to know in 2020-21, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation granted 18 licenses for trail hunting, down from 26 in 2019-20.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me about this important issue.