THE National Trust and Forestry England have suspended licences for trail hunting on their land in response to a police investigation into webinars discussing the practice.

Trail hunting is a legal activity which involves following a scent along a pre-determined route with hounds or beagles, to replicate a traditional hunt but without a fox being chased, injured or killed.

But animal welfare campaigners at the League Against Cruel Sports say it is used as a “smokescreen” to allow real hunting of foxes to continue, despite being banned under the Hunting Act since 2005.

They have pointed to two leaked training webinars involving huntsmen discussing trail hunting, which are now being investigated by police.

The Hunting Office, which administrates hunting across the UK, said the purpose of the webinars was to discuss legal hunting.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for foxhunting Paul Netherton said: “Police are currently investigating and examining video content from two webinars on the theme of hunting which have recently come to our attention.

“We are working in conjunction with the CPS to see if any criminal offences have been committed.

“As these events were online and there are no specific geographical areas for one force to investigate, Devon and Cornwall Police are leading the investigation on behalf of all UK forces.

“We understand this is a contentious issue, however at this time this is a live and active investigation which we cannot comment further on.”

In response to the investigation, a spokesperson for the National Trust, which licenses one trail hunt on its land, said: “We are aware of videos circulating on social media showing two Hunting Office training webinars earlier this year.

“As a result, we have taken the decision to pause trail hunting on National Trust land and will not be granting any new licences for the remainder of the season.

“We do not currently have a date when this will be reviewed.”

Forestry England said in a statement: “We have now suspended all licences for trail hunting in the nation’s forests.

“This is in response to confirmation that the police are investigating webinars hosted by the Hunting Office.

“We do not intend to make any further comments until the police have concluded their investigation.”

Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, welcomed the moves by the National Trust and Forestry England.

“We now repeat our calls for other landowners such as United Utilities, Defra, Ministry of Defence, and the Duchy of Cornwall to follow suit,” he said.

The Hunting Office said: “The purpose of the webinars held in August was very clearly to facilitate legal hunting and any allegation that they were organised for any other purpose is completely incorrect.

“We will cooperate fully with the police and welcome the opportunity to clarify the situation.

“We understand that although this decision by the National Trust is difficult for those packs affected, there has only been one pack granted a licence so far this season so it doesn’t impact on the majority of the other trail-hunting packs.

“We understand the decision of the Forestry Commission which will affect five of the over 200 trail hunts that operate in England.”