Trail hunting exposed as false alibi widely used for illegal hunting with hounds

Monday, 14 December, 2015

A decade after the ban on hunting with hounds, 99% of monitoring operations for legal trail hunting have found no evidence of anyone laying a potentially genuine trail, a major study has revealed.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) new report, Trail of Lies, is the largest and most comprehensive study to date on trail hunting, a legal activity where dogs should be sent after pre-laid trails rather than live foxes or other British mammals. It concludes that trail hunting is generally and frequently used to provide a false alibi for illegal hunting and major changes are needed to ensure better enforcement of the Hunting Act.

Wildlife crime investigators for IFAW have monitored 443 supposed trail hunting events run by 43 different registered hunts over the last 10 years, covering 50% of the counties of England and Wales, yet on only 1% of occasions did they witness any evidence that suggested possible trail laying.

Philip Mansbridge, UK Director of IFAW, said: “Our Trail of Lies report reveals some shocking truths. The facts speak for themselves; with investigators witnessing no genuine trail hunting on 99% of occasions monitoring hunts which claim to be doing so, we have to conclude that most hunts are not laying a trail at all. So when trail hunting is used as an alibi to avoid prosecution for illegal hunting, it is usually a false alibi and we believe the concept of trail hunting was invented for this very reason.

“It’s important that we remember the Hunting Act was introduced because the overwhelming majority of the UK public find the cruelty of chasing or killing a wild mammal with a pack of hounds absolutely abhorrent. We are a nation of animal lovers and I believe the same people who continue to give their wholehearted support to keeping a ban on the bloody ‘sport’ of hunting foxes and other animals will also agree that it’s time to stop the illegal hunters from ‘getting away with it’ by lying.”

By design, trail hunting differs significantly from the two traditional legal forms of hunting, drag hunting and hunting with bloodhounds (also known as hunting the clean boot). Both of these activities, created in the 1800s, cause no harm to wild animals. Drag hunting involves hounds being directed to follow distinct routes where a non-animal scent has been laid and hunting with bloodhounds involves the dogs following the scent of a human runner.

Trail hunting was described after its inception as a temporary activity created to simulate live quarry hunting in response to the hunting ban, but one which would not continue if the Hunting Act was repealed. It involves the use of real fox scent (fox urine which can be purchased from US fur farms), the huntsman and key hunt staff are not told where a trail has been laid and trail hunts operate mostly in the same areas where traditional fox hunting took place – often in known fox habitats.

Hounds used for trail hunting can be left unsupervised for longer periods than in drag hunts, which increases the likelihood of ‘accidents’ where live foxes or other wildlife can be chased and/or killed. Such accidents resulting from trail hunting are a common response from hunts when allegations of illegal hunting are made. The Hunting Act has an enforcement problem and IFAW believes trail hunting is the main reason for this.

The issue of trail hunting being used as a false alibi for illegal hunting can be solved via three options, trail hunters converting to drag hunting or clean boot hunting; the design of strict standardised rules to regulate trail hunting to enable easy external monitoring and prevent the use of trail hunting as a false alibi; and amendment of the hunting ban to ensure trail hunting can no longer be used as a false alibi to avoid prosecution. IFAW believes the latter solution has the highest probability of success.

Mansbridge added: “The Hunting Act needs to be urgently amended to ensure the law no longer allows trail hunting to be used as a false alibi. This is a vital measure to ensure the ban is effective in protecting our British wildlife from horrific cruelty inflicted to satisfy the bloodlust of a minority.”


For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Clare Sterling at IFAW on 020 7587 6708, mobile 07917 507717 or email

The full report Trail of Lies and a summary report, Uncovering the Trail of Lies, can both be found at along with an accompanying video. Images from the report are available on request.

Notes to Editors –

IFAW’s Trail of Lies report contains more than 200 pages of articles, comments, images and expert opinion. The evidence is based on bibliographical research, testimonies of witnesses and experts, statistical analysis of quantifiable data, analysis of court records and proceedings and audio-visual evidence from the field, covering a period of 10 years.

About IFAW

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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Clare Sterling (IFAW UK)
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020 7587 6708
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07917 507717
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