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New Defence Secretary must ban hunting on MOD land

John Healey is Labour’s new Secretary of State for Defence. Healey is anti-hunting, so Protect the Wild has high hopes that he will take urgent action to ban hunting on Ministry of Defence (MOD) land. Join us in our campaign to make this happen.

Most major landowners, such as the National Trust, have already banned trail hunting on their land. Trail hunting is a guise used by hunts to pretend that they are following a pre-laid scent, and that any kills are purely accidental. Under the Tories, the MOD refused to ban the bloodsport, despite ample evidence showing that chases and kills were taking place on Salisbury Plain. In fact, Tory Ben Wallace was complicit in hiding the illegal activities of the Royal Artillery Hunt (RAH) while he was Defence Secretary. The RAH describes itself as “the only remaining military hunt in the UK”. Wallace shamelessly went on to join the British Hound Sports Association board after leaving his ministerial role.

 

An anti-hunting minister

Healey has been the Labour MP for Rawmarsh and Conisbrough – formerly Wentworth and then Wentworth and Dearne – since 1997. He consistently voted against fox hunting in the lead-up to the passing of the Hunting Act in 2004.

On top of this, in October 2022, Healey asked the MOD to disclose how many hunting licences had been granted by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) – the estate management organisation of the MOD – since 2010. His enquiries revealed that 225 trail hunting meets took place in the 2022/23 season alone, while a massive 246 meets took place in the season prior.

Unlike his Tory predecessors, it seems that Healey won’t easily be swayed by the hunting industry lobby. Back in 2018, he even alerted the police after a constituent contacted him, concerned that Wentworth Estates were allowing the criminal Grove and Rufford Hunt to use estate land.

As we covered in a previous article, Labour has already stated that it will strengthen the Hunting Act, closing the trail hunting loophole. We argue that the government can do much more than this and change the law completely. While we wait for Labour to get the ball rolling on a proper ban on hunting – which will take months – Healey can, and must, take action to ban hunting on MOD land. As Defence Secretary, Healey has overall responsibility for the MOD, so presumably has huge sway in what the DIO’s policies are, and – once he has settled into his role – can ban hunting.

A fox runs from Charles Carter of the Royal Artillery Hunt.
A fox runs from Charles Carter of the Royal Artillery Hunt, via Salisbury Plain Monitors.

Foxes killed, deer chased

The RAH is well known for its deliberate flouting of the Hunting Act. There’s eyewitness evidence, as well as plenty of photo and video evidence, of chases and kills (see here, here, or here, for just a few examples). On top of this, in March 2023 the MOD Police issued an official warning to huntsman Charles Carter after he violated a bylaw by not keeping a pack of hounds under control. The hounds were filmed by monitors chasing deer across Salisbury Plain.

Protect the Wild will soon be publishing its annual report on the 2023/24 hunting season, where we will be publishing our statistics on the number of animals chased and killed by hunts. MOD land is, of course, difficult to monitor on the ground, as much of it is out of bounds to the public. Despite this, saboteurs and monitors managed to attend 18 RAH meets and documented five incidents of foxes chased, as well as seven incidents of deer chased by the hunt in the last season. Footage from November 2023 showed hounds marking to ground at the entrance of an earth as a fox sought refuge. Of those 18 meets, the police only attended three times.

In Essex, too, foxes are chased on MOD land. The Essex and Suffolk Hunt made local headlines in January 2023 after a resident near Colchester reported that a fox ‘screeched’ as hounds killed them in Friday Woods, part of the Defence estate.

 

End hunting on MoD land

Add your name

Our petition and open letter to the Defence Secretary, calling for the MOD to ban hunting on its land, has been running for more than a year, and now has more than 31,000 signatures. New to the role, Healey hasn’t yet received emails from the public calling for him to take action. Now that the Tories are out, we must seize the chance to influence change.

  • We urge Healey to look at the ample evidence showing that illegal hunting is taking place on MOD land and take urgent action to ban hunts. Add your name to the petition and open letter to the Defence Secretary here.

(Header image Charles Carter of the Royal Artillery Hunt (left) and John Healey MP (right) the new Secretary of State for Defence.)