Guest blog – Forestry Commission response on hunting by Ian Gambles

Ian Gambles is the Acting Chief Executive Officer of Forest Enterprise England.

Forestry Commission response to Jack Riggall’s guest blog

Jack Riggall raises some very important points in his guest blog and I feel it is important to separate them and be clear about who has responsibility for what.

Basically, if anyone has evidence of any suspected illegal activity in forests we care for they should pass it to the police for them to consider what action they can take.

Also, evidence should be given to one of our local offices if there is suspicion that someone may be breaking the terms or conditions of an agreement, permission or licence from the Forestry Commission. We do investigate when we are given enough credible information or evidence and we do take action. This applies to everyone not just Hunts we give permissions to.

To give a little more detail on our approach we need to remember that the forests we manage in England welcome some 226 million visits every year and people come for a wide range of activities: from a gentle walk to extreme, downhill mountain biking.

Some activities need to be more tightly controlled and monitored such as rallying or Parkruns to make sure everyone can use the forest safely and responsibly. Inevitably some people agree with activities other people want to do and some do not. We do not have the right to stop someone with a criminal conviction visiting forests or taking part in an organised activity.

Specifically on trail hunting and drag hunting, that are still legal, we need to remember this is an emotive issue where beliefs are strong and emotions can run high. Sadly this can lead to poor behaviour and we have received complaints about people on both sides of the argument. We also see news reports of convictions for criminal behaviour on both sides.

We allow some traditional hunting groups to continue to use forests we manage to trail and drag hunt where they have had access before.

We only permit activities to members of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association (MFHA) and the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association (MDBA).  Our ‘master agreements’ strictly control which trail and drag hunts are permitted. Our Head of Estates reviews annually that season’s activity and reports on any issues we have been made aware of. We will then agree any action that needs to be taken.

We have the right to monitor the conduct of hunts and do this visibly or under cover which may explain why Jack may not be aware of all our monitoring activity. Our decision to monitor is not taken lightly and we do it based on the level of risk we believe there is and use credible information we have from our own staff or members of the public. Over the last three seasons we have monitored almost 50 hunt activities.

And we take action. Over the last three seasons we have: suspended 2 hunts during our investigations of alleged breaches of permission; refused a permission request due to previous trespass and revoked a permission due to the hunt repeatedly going near a visitor site.

In summary, the land we manage is the single biggest place for outdoor recreation in England. It is enjoyed by millions of people and a stronghold for some of our rarest wildlife while producing around half of the country’s homegrown timber. We want as many people as possible to enjoy forests and insist they do so responsibly, legally and with respect for others.


24 Replies to “Guest blog – Forestry Commission response on hunting by Ian Gambles”

  1. Dear Forest Enterprise England. Simply ask for a map of the trail after it has been laid, Tyne monitor the hunt to make sure they stick to it. Signed… someone who actually wants to see you deal with the problem. Thank you.

  2. Mr Gamble

    Do you allow hunts to follow scents from animal by-products?

    If so, do you obtain a copy of the environmental permit from the hunt issued by the Environment Agency to permit this material to be discarded on to the ground. It’s a breach of S33 to discard waste without a permit authorising the activity and I believe your organisation could be held accountable under the Act for allowing that activity to take place.

    Under S33(1)(a) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) it is an offence to deposit industrial or commercial waste or knowingly cause or knowingly permit such waste to be deposited in or on any land unless a waste management licence authorising the deposit is in force and the deposit is in accordance with the permit.

    S33(1)(b) also prohibits a person from permitting, causing or treating industrial or commercial waste in a way that (ii) is not in accordance with an environmental permit.

    Furthermore, S33(1)(c) EPA bans the treatment, keeping or management of industrial or commercial waste in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health. (Under S29(3)) ‘Pollution of the environment’ means pollution of the environment due to the release or escape (into land, air or water) from the land on which industrial or commercial waste is (a) treated, (b) kept or (c) deposited of substances or articles constituting or resulting from the waste and capable (by reason of the quantity or concentrations involved) of causing harm to man or any other living organisms supported by the environment.” (According to S29(5)) ” “harm” means harm to the health of living organisms (plants, animals, even single celled life forms) or other interference with the ecological systems of which they form a part. In the case of man this includes offence to any of his senses or harm to his property. “Harmless” has a corresponding meaning. Under S29(11)) “Substance” means any natural or artificial substance, whether in solid or liquid form or in the form of a gas or vapour. Clearly decaying animal carcasses have the potential to cause harm to other living organisms supported by the environment or to interfere with their associated ecological systems.

    If you permit the use of animal by-product scents how do you prevent the potential spread or assure traceability of a ‘bad’ batch with the potential to spread disease to humans or animals or harm the environment?

    Finally, if you want the public to enjoy this controversial activity and reassure opponents that a genuine scent is being laid, why do you not require the hunts to publicise their routes? I’ve been involved in major events where there have been traffic management and/or public safety issues to consider. The organisations I was involved with had to publicise the routes in advance. Imagine if events covering considerable distances, like cycling events, didn’t announce their route in advance!

  3. Ian – It’s good that you have gone to the trouble of responding here. But on trail hunting I am far from convinced by your argument. You are passing the buck to the Police in full knowledge that if they can’t get to grips with illegal hunting in the open countryside then they will have no chance of doing so within heavily forested areas? This is land that FC manage and is responsible for. Either you are (a) complicit; you are fully aware of what trail hunts get up to on a routine basis but find it too difficult to confront them so largely turn a blind eye or you are (b) daft; you genuinely believe what hunts say when they pretend to be acting within the law. I find (b) very hard to believe given the nous and experience of FC staff, but perhaps I’m wrong. If it’s (a) then you are pandering to a tiny group of forest users who get their enjoyment from acting illegally on your estate. And this comes at the expense of thoroughly annoying a vastly larger number of forest users who are appalled by the idea of this illegal activity taking place on FC land. I would be interested in your thoughts on this. Based on discussions with your staff do you believe that trail hunts are acting legally most of the time? It’s a simply question and it would be good to get a direct answer. And if you don’t know the answer do you think that perhaps it would be worth finding out?

  4. This seems much like a response from the National Trust although it has to be said at least the FC do seem to monitor hunts.

    The main problem with both the NT and the FC is that they accept that tail hunting is acceptable and legal, and while this may be the case at face value the reality is wildly different. It has been covered in great detail by IFAW’s “Trail of Lies” and the evidence submitted on social media every week that trail hunting just does not exist.

    Hunts are hunting pretty much as they did prior to the ban and using trail hunting as a cover for their illegal activities. If hunts really do wish to be considered to be abiding by the law they will be able to supply maps of the trails they are following, provide a sample of the scent they are using (considering the use of fox based scent has to be imported and no import licenses have been applied for (to the APHA) and as a biological waste product its use strictly controlled) and all meets openly advertised.

    They will also have no need for terrier men as their sole purpose is to dig out foxes which have gone to ground. We can safely ignore the claims by the Countryside Alliance’s Head of Hunting (Polly Portwin) that they are fence menders and they cover their faces due to dust! Remember this is the same person who’s home hunt (the Kimblewick) was filmed dragging a fox from an earth and throwing it in front of the hounds on New Years Day this year.

    Once the managers of our open spaces accept this reality along with the mass of evidence then we will start to make some progress. Until then hunts will continue to hide behind the trail hunt lies and animals, both foxes, hares and deer will continue to be hunted and killed.

    Last word is from Tim Bonner, CEO of the Countryside Alliance; “To everyone looking at what is happening on the 19th it will look, sound and smell just like hunting did before.

    There will be people on horses and hundreds of farmers, hounds – and foxes will be killed”.

  5. While acknowledging that it is good that Mr Gambles has responded here, it is disappointing that he was so superficial and ‘political’ in what he said, failing to confront the real issues, as highlighted in the previous comments.
    The foxhunting community is resourceful and cunning. Trail hunting is a clever and effective ploy to confuse the legal picture. However, one has to be wilfully half-blind to continue falling for it, as it seems the Forestry Commission are doing.
    I have witnessed trail hunting at close quarters, and I have not the slightest shadow of a doubt as to its real purpose. Only those who want to be fooled could fail to see the reality behind it. It’s sad that the FC seems to fall into that category.

  6. Are any of the areas the hunts go through accessible to livestock?

    If so, and you permit animal derived scents to be used, how do you prevent these serious breaches of the law?

    Wasn’t the BSE and CJD crisis enough of a lesson to learn about the horrors uncontrolled or inappropriate use of animal by-products!

    Here’s the Scottish and English and Welsh legislation …

    The Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (Scotland) Regulations 2013

    4.—(1) Animal by-products, including catering waste, must not be brought on to any premises where farmed animals are kept.

    (2) But paragraph (1) does not apply—

    (a)where the occupier of the premises and the person having control of the animal by-products ensure that such by-products can be brought on to the premises in such a manner as to prevent farmed animals having access to such by-products

    Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (England) 2013
    Restrictions on access to animal by-products

    4.—(1) Animal by-products, including catering waste, must not be brought on to any premises if farmed animals would have access to such animal by-products.

  7. I have on a number of occasions come across so called trail hunting, to me an excuse to continue to pursue foxes with hounds, which, of course is in contravention of the law. Several times this has been on land managed in some way for conservation but the ” sporting rights” belong to somebody else or the landlord ( peculiar anachronism of law that needs to be addressed). On each occasion I have asked of those involved in the conservation of the land in question, when the trail the hunt is following was laid. I always get the same response a blank stare and a don’t know. Trail hunting is a fiction, the hunts know it, large numbers of the public, pro and anti hunt, know it. WHY THE HELL DON’T THE FC?

  8. Should insist that any drag or trail hunting hounds used on FC lands are trained to follow a lemon-citron scent and not a fox one. That way there can be no “accidental” chasing of a real fox. Until that happens, I’m going to consider FC and his excuses to be a bunch of damned liars who tacitly endorse fox hunting. He fails the credibility test.

  9. Are any of the areas the hunts go through accessible to livestock during or shortly after the hunt?

    If so, and you permit animal derived scents to be used, how do you prevent these breaches of the law relating to animal by-products?

    Wasn’t the BSE and CJD crisis enough of a lesson to learn about the horrors uncontrolled or inappropriate use of animal by-products!

    Here’s the Scottish and English and Welsh legislation …

    The Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (Scotland) Regulations 2013

    4.—(1) Animal by-products, including catering waste, must not be brought on to any premises where farmed animals are kept.

    (2) But paragraph (1) does not apply—

    (a)where the occupier of the premises and the person having control of the animal by-products ensure that such by-products can be brought on to the premises in such a manner as to prevent farmed animals having access to such by-products

    Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (England) 2013
    Restrictions on access to animal by-products

    4.—(1) Animal by-products, including catering waste, must not be brought on to any premises if farmed animals would have access to such animal by-products.

  10. Fwiu a ‘terrier man’ is as entitled as any other variety of man or woman to go hunting.

  11. I’m glad Ian Gambles has taken the time to respond to me, but I disagree with what he’s saying (obviously) and frankly find the response dismissive and, in some points, misrepresenting my concerns – perhaps by mistake, perhaps not.

    It is the choice of the Forestry Commission to issue or not to issue licences; this is clear as Ian states they have this right. They have suspended hunts, as well as refused & revoked permissions. Ian states that individuals cannot be refused access based on criminal convictions, but by stating this he’s failing to understand the issue; it’s simply not the case where a paid terrierman (in the case of the Cottesmore Hunt) will attend a trail hunt then randomly sneak off to illegally block a badger sett. Such acts are done as part of the hunt. So I’m not asking for individuals to be barred, and Ian would know this if he’d read my petition, I’m asking for hunts as organisations to be barred from having licences (which the Forestry Commission clearly can do) on the basis that these criminal convictions clearly show that the hunts are not following trails.

    Two other quick points:

    My petition clearly isn’t requesting a ban on drag hunting (i.e. agreements under the Master of Draghounds & Bloodhounds Association) as there is no live quarry deliberately hunted by these packs, so I think it’s disappointing & cynical for Ian to describe drag hunting & ‘trail hunting’ as if they were similar.

    Accidental Activist rightly states above that Ian’s response is seemingly straight from the National Trust’s playbook, but notably he refrains from commenting on the fact that the Forestry Commission record, in their own documents, foxes being killed (bizarrely) by fox hunts using packs foxhounds. It’s deeply disappointing to see that this impact is then passed off as no more damaging than mountain biking (which is exactly what the National Trust stated some time ago – it didn’t help them to do so and I doubt it will help the Forestry Commission) or Park Runs. I’ve been both mountain biking and on Park Runs, and strangely enough I can’t recall wildlife being victimised as a result. The so-called ‘trail hunts’ that the Forestry Commission licences are slightly different.

    For those who want to sign, they can do so here:

  12. Nothing personal intended, but whenever someone uses the term ‘an emotive issue’ what they usually mean is ‘I’m a scientist and we don’t do emotion, and we don’t really trust or believe you people that get all emotional’. The fact is that we get emotional because a) animals are being treated cruelly, b) it’s against the law, and c) we’re really, really annoyed that despite all the available eclvidence intelligent people see no evil and hear no evil when there’s a whole lot of evil taking place. Normal rational people who loathe animal abuse and criminality do get wound up, yes we do – and to be honest, if you don’t see illegal fox hunting as ’emotive’ the chances are either that you do it yourself or you just don’t care. An emotive issue? Damn straight it is.

  13. Perhaps Ian has been tied up in meetings today but I do find it odd that having gone to the trouble of setting out FC’s position he then fails to respond to points made and (perfectly reasonable) questions asked by people who have commented. The danger is this comes across as disinterest and highlights the fact that good answers to the questions are hard to come by. Continued silence to me speaks volumes about FC’s position which, in a word, is untenable.

  14. While fully accepting that millions enjoy the use of the forests has Forest Enterprise considered asking those who use forests where hunts are allowed access whether they are content for that enjoyment to be put at jeopardy through disturbance by horses and dogs rampaging through the forest scaring wildlife, leaving ‘deposits’ in their wake and generally being a nuisance? Thought not.

  15. Yes Ian,I too am not at all convinced by your response to this issue.I feel the F.C and N.T are very much lagging behind public opinion on this and the evidence of foxes and other animals being killed and maimed around the Boxing Day Hunts was extremely convincing that Trail hunting involves a good deal of criminality.
    It is time for a fresh approach from your organizations,Trail hunting has no place on land managed by those who wish us to believe they care about animal welfare issues rather than trying to ‘protect’ the rights of a small minority intent on keeping this dubious practice going.

  16. In your blog you use the words “traditional hunts” and “trail / drag” hunting in the same sentence. That is the nub of the problem. The public don’t trust the hunt to fully comply. The hunt pay only lip service to compliance. You don’t have the resources to adequately monitor every hunt. Things do go wrong.

    In the meantime every time a hunt takes place, the public loose access and your corporate values and image are eroded.
    Just stop the access.

  17. I am afraid I have to take issue with almost every sentence uttered by Mr Gambles. My own experience in the Forest of Dean is that the Forestry Commission refuses to reply to complaints about hunts. I and other walkers have presented evidence that wildlife is regularly chased by hounds, that public safety is jeopardised, that recreation such as cycling and walking is negatively impacted upon by hunts. None of these concerns have been answered let alone considered. Unfortunately I believe the Forestry Commission like the National Trust have a public face which would have us believe they care for wildlife and a private agenda which is in line with that of a powerful minority with psychopathic tendencies towards animal abuse. With the rise of social media leading to greater public awareness this dichotomy will be exposed, it will not be a proud moment for the National Trust or the Forestry Commission to have to admit they were so wrong.

  18. Hi Ian,
    I do hope you get to see my comment. First of all it is a mistake to conflate drag hunting with trail hunting. Drag hunting follows a human scent and no animal is harmed. Trail hunting is not traditional, it came about after the ban, and anyway it doesn’t exist simply because the hunts don’t really lay trails, they hunt live quarry and claim any deaths are accidental. The Countryside Alliance claims that hunts use imported fox urine from fur farms to lay their trails. Any imported biological substance of that nature requires a licence. An FOI to DEFRA shows that no licences were applied for or granted for hunting in the 3 year period for which DEFRA keeps records. A few years ago, one hunt tried to hoodwink people by producing a certificate of authentication from a company called Adrians Fox scent. A quick search showed that AFS had never traded and the certificate was a fake. You are doing the reputation of the Forestry Commission no good at all by allowing these hooligans and thugs access to Forestry land. It’s pointless ringing the police, because they dont come out, or if they do, they harass the sabs and protect the hunt.

  19. It is astonishing that Ian talks about tradition as a justification.
    Foxhunting cannot be justified as a tradition. It was made illegal by law. The fact that the burden of proof has proved so difficult does not mean that it is acceptable to the majority of the public that so many animals are being killed.
    Presumably arguments that led to the Ban were dismissed as ‘emotive’ by those who resisted. History proved them right as we saw before the last election.
    By the way even the NT accept that terrier men have no place in a hunt that is not supposed to be hunting live quarry. There would be no reason as foxes could go to ground and the hunt should be glad to have avoided it.

  20. Are members of the public with family dogs expected to pick up dog poo on your land? If so why not the hunts – especially remembering that hounds have been shown to get bTB and yet are not required to be tested.

    You could also insist on muzzling the hounds so kills do not occur.

    Ian Gambles; you really have not thought through position properly and are clearly aiding and abetting illegal activity on your land.

    Shame on you.

  21. I totally agree with all the above comments. If the hunt are really following a trail they should provide a copy of the prelaid trail to the FC and anyone else who wants one. They should also show proof of where they have purchased the gallon or more of fox urine needed to lay the days trail and terrier men should be banned. This should be strictly enforced. The burden of proof should be on the hunt, not members of the public and if a fox is killed they should be banned for good as they obviously can’t control their hounds.

  22. I almost can’t be bothered to respond you Mr Gambles as I’m afraid you sound exactly like every other tiresome apologist for so called trail hunting. I’m starting to wonder if you are all handed the same script. Blah blah, emotive subject, blah blah, baddies on both sides etc etc. Others have pointed out the gaping flaws in your argument to continue to allow so called trail hunts to cavort on FC land so I won’t waste my time repeating what they’ve already said. I do take comfort from seeing that the apologists position is increasingly ridiculous as a constant flow of evidence of illegal hunting comes to light. Such barbarism has no place in the 21st century and history will not be kind to those who participate in illegal hunts, nor those who facilitate them. Perhaps you should reflect on that. Though I get the feeling you won’t.

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