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.