MoD respond to petition calling for end of hunting licences

Protect the Wild recently launched a campaign to ban so-called ‘trail hunting’ on Ministry of Defence (MoD) land, part of our wider determination to end hunting with dogs permanently and achieve a Proper Ban on Hunting.

While most major landowners have seen through the ‘smokescreen’ of ‘trail hunting’, the MoD is still issuing licences that allow hunts onto huge areas of land – including Salisbury Plain, an internationally-important grassland packed with protected species and the stamping ground of Charles Carter and the notorious Royal Artillery Hunt.

As part of the MoD campaign, we commissioned a powerful animation (which was voiced by Chris Packham) and started a petition aimed at the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), the estate expert for defence which oversees the vast acreages the MoD manages. To follow that up, on 23rd April we sent in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the MoD asking questions about licences.

We received a response to our FOI fairly quickly (certainly within the 20 working days proscribed by Information Commissioner’s Office guidelines). Last week we unexpectedly also received an email about our petition from James Cartlidge, the MP for South Suffolk and Minister of State for Defence Procurement and a man not noted for pro-environment or pro-wildlife voting. Neither is especially illuminating but we are discussing them here as an update.


The RAH on Salisbury Plain. Image Salisbury Plain Monitors


Our FOI request asked the following questions:

  1. Is the information about the number of hunts issued with trail hunting licences as reported in a Daily Mail article dated 21 December 2021 headlined “Revealed: Twenty-three hunts using Ministry of Defence land this season” ( accurate, and if not what was the correct figure for the number of hunts issued with licences?
  2. How many/which hunts have requested trail hunting licences for MoD land for the hunting season beginning in autumn 2023?
  3. How many/which hunts will be issued with trail hunting licences for the hunting season beginning in autumn 2023, and on what MoD land will they be permitted by those licences to trail hunt?
  4. By what date will those licences be issued, or as of writing (13 April 2023) have they already been issued (if so, how many have already been issued and to which hunts have they been issued)?
  5. Have any hunts that have requested or were previously issued with trail hunting licences been refused trail hunting licences for the upcoming hunting season beginning in autumn 2023 and if so which hunts and for what reason/s were they refused (eg breach of licence, illegal activity).


We asked Q1 because the ‘twenty-three hunts’ statistic is regularly repeated and we wanted to make sure when we used it we were in fact correct to do so. And the answer is, according to the DIO Secretariat who signed the letter to us, that, yes, “the information regarding the number of hunts issued with trail hunting licences as reported in a Daily Mail article dated 21 December headlined “Revealed: Twenty-three hunts using Ministry of Defence land this season, 2021 is correct.”

So far, so good…How about our other questions?

The answer to Q2, is that “To date, no licences have been requested for MOD land for the hunting season beginning in autumn 2023″ which is useful to know. The answers to Q3, 4, and 5 though were “Information not held”.

This could either mean that this particular office doesn’t hold the information (so we need to ask another department) or that no licences have been issued yet. The Secretariat did offer the information that “Under Section 16 of the FOIA (Advice and Assistance), you may find it helpful to know that hunting licences run from 1 September 2023 to 30 April 2024” which might point to the latter, but doesn’t clarify when hunts like the RAH will ask for permission to ride over SSSis and SACs to chase foxes.

If anyone reading this knows, please tell us. We will try finding out again in the summer either way.

(We have uploaded the FOI as a pdf which can be downloaded here)


The email

On 12th May, Protect the Wild received an email out of the blue from James Cartlidge MP, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement.  ‘Out of the blue’ because we hadn’t yet contacted him or his parliamentary office about our petition, so to all intents and purposes someone must have seen it (it’s hard to imagine that would be Mr Cartlidge himself, especially while different ideological wings of the Conservative Party are once again tearing themselves apart) and requested an official response from ‘higher up’.

Defence procurement is ‘the process through which authorities in the field of defence acquire the various goods, services or works they need in order to perform their duties and missions‘. It consists of a number of different organisations under one umbrella. This includes the DIO.

Mr Cartlidge’s email contains a number of typos (which suggests it wasn’t checked very carefully before it was sent), and our thinking is that perhaps it came from the DIO in an attempt to distance themselves from the illegal hunting it licences. In defence terms, it would perhaps be seen as a ‘pre-emptive strike’…


Charles Carter of RAH is told to return to kennels after chasing a fox

Charles Carter and the RAH being told to return to kennels for chasing a fox. Image Salisbury Plain Monitors

That’s because the email doesn’t acknowledge the number of signatures on the petition, but is instead full of the usual guff about ‘lawful activities’ (it’s very difficult to miss the ample evidence from the likes of Salisbury Plain Monitors and the Salisbury Plain Hunt Sabs (formerly known as the Moonrakers) that the RAH and other hunts are breaking the law all the time); shifts any responsibility to control illegal hunting away from the landowner (who in law does have liabilities under the Hunting Act) onto the police; and also using the old ‘it’s up to the public to report illegal activity‘ trope that caused ridicule on social media when the National Trust repeatedly used it.

Not that we are suggesting for a moment that the DIO would condone illegal hunting (it doesn’t), but if the email was simply trying to ‘place on the record’ that the DIO doesn’t condone illegal hunting, job done. If it was meant to reassure us, though, that the problem of illegal hunting taking place on land managed by one of the country’s largest landowners is being investigated and we can look forward to action being taken, then it failed. Completely.

(We have uploaded the email as a pdf which can be downloaded here)


The future

On a more positive note, that email does show that our petition has already been noticed and has triggered a response.

At the moment the petition has just over 21,000 signatures. Now is the time to push on to 25, 30, or even 50,000. Staff within the MoD understandably are irritated that a disorderly bunch like the Royal Artillery Hunt are illegally hunting under a name that has long been associated with the military, and who are – essentially – taking the piss out of a licencing system they could probably do without anyway.



Critics might say that the MoD is too large and too powerful to really care deeply about illegal hunting, but we all know the saying about mosquitos and being an irritant!

We can – we are certain – get ‘trail hunting’ banned on MoD land. The work of monitors and sabs will be absolutely crucial in obtaining the evidence of illegality on the ground, there is no doubt about that, but putting pressure on the DIO via the petition will also help.

If you haven’t done so yet, please sign and share our petition, and if you’d like to support the Salisbury Plain Hunt Sabs and Salisbury Plain Monitors please go to paypalme/moonrakerhuntsabs

Thank you.