TRAIL hunting must be ended on public land over concerns the practice is being used as a cover for illegal fox hunting, ministers have been urged.

Both Labour and the League Against Cruel Sports criticised the UK Government for granting licences ahead of Boxing Day meets.

Their calls came after a senior huntsman was convicted of urging people to use lawful trail hunting, in which a scent is laid for hounds to follow, as a “smokescreen” for illegally hunting foxes.

National Trust members have voted to halt the sport on the charity’s land over concerns it was being used as a cover while last month Natural Resources Wales also decided it wouldn't renew its agreement with the Masters of Foxhounds Association.

NRW is the largest land manager, by area, in Wales meaning large parts of public land are now off limits to hunts in Wales.

However activists expect more than 240 hunting days will have taken place on land owned by the Ministry of Defence this year.

Labour’s shadow UK environment secretary Jim McMahon said: “Allowing hunts to go ahead on public and Government-owned land is completely irresponsible, regardless of whether those taking part are the Prime Minister’s mates.

“The Government must do more to close the loopholes that allow people to break the law and consign hunting to the history books, where the vast majority of us believe it belongs.”

Chris Luffingham, the director of external affairs at the League Against Cruel Sports, added: “It’s time all major landowners permanently banned trail hunting on their land and that the Government strengthens the Hunting Act to ensure its loopholes can no longer be exploited.”

MORE NEWS:

In October, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association Mark Hankinson was found guilty of intentionally encouraging huntsmen to use legal trail hunting as “a sham and a fiction” for the unlawful chasing and killing of animals during webinars.

National Trust members overwhelmingly voted to ban trail hunting on the charity’s land in England and Wales after the conviction at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

The Welsh Government nature agency Natural Resources Wales, which looks after swathes of countryside and forests, also went on to ban trail hunting on its land.

The Hunting Act 2004 banned hunting wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales.

In a 2005 opinion piece for The Spectator, Prime Minister Boris Johnson - who was editor at the magazine at the time - called the ban “a Marxian attack” by the then-Labour government on the upper class.

He went on to call the policy a "tyrannical measure" and a "brutal and pointless liquidation of a way of life."

The Prime Minister argued that hunters should carry on regardless of the law: “I loved my day with the hunt, and hope they have the courage and organisation to keep going for ever.

"I hope that the hunt holds up the ban to the ridicule it deserves, that they defy the police and the magistrates and the government, until a new government can rescue an old tradition and restore it for the sake of freedom and freedom alone.”

With hunts not traditionally meeting on Sundays, Boxing Day meets will instead be held this year on Monday.

Additional reporting by Rebecca Wilks.

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.