25th February 2019
Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt hounds hot on the trail of a nursing vixen in St Peter & St Paul's Churchyard, Charlton Horethorne, Somerset on 23.02.19 Photo: Kevin Hill/Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime
HOUNDS OFF PRESS RELEASE MON 25 FEBRUARY 2019
- Hunters in Somerset were forced to call their hounds off a female fox because anti hunt monitors recorded the whole incident on film.
- At about 2pm on Saturday 23 February 2019 the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chased the vixen through private gardens and the churchyard of St Peter & St Paul’s in Charlton Horethorne, just a stones throw from the hunt kennels. But Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors, equipped with video cameras, were at the scene and recorded it.
- Wildlife rescue expert Penny Little (tel: 07702 565598) reviewed their footage. She said, “I am confident this hunted fox is a vixen that has recently given birth to cubs as her teats are visible and show clear evidence of lactation.”
- WATCH SOMERSET WILDLIFE CRIME / HOUNDS OFF FILM HERE
- Footage shows a fox being hunted through gravestones and into bushes where by some miracle it gives chasing dogs the slip. Campaigners film also documents the moment when the nursing vixen tries to steal away unseen and is “hollered” by a member of the hunt (a loud, high-pitched yell to inform the Huntsman and his hounds that the fox has been spotted).
- Bobbie Armstrong (tel: 07572 495309) from Somerset Wildlife Crime said, “When the fox crossed in front of us we told a red-coated hunter to call hounds off. At this point they were right on her and it looked grim but the red-coat knew we had it all on film. He had little choice but to call hounds back and let the fox get away. It was all a bit tense for a while but we were pleased to be in the right place at the right time.”
- Foxhunting has been illegal in England and Wales since 2005 but hunts continue, claiming to chase a trail which they lay in advance. The “accidental” hunting and killing of foxes during so-called ‘trail hunts’ is commonplace and the law remains powerless to prevent this.
- Hunt Monitor Kevin Hill (tel: 07971 633182) said, “It seems pretty obvious that the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt were cheerfully and deliberately chasing foxes on Saturday and if we had not been there then they’d have got away with it. Think about it for a second. Who in their right mind would lay a trail through private gardens and a churchyard?”
- Bobbie Armstrong said she had spoken to the Reverend Sarah Godfrey, the Vicar at Charlton Horethorne. According to Ms Armstrong, “She wasn’t aware of the events of yesterday and was keen to see our evidence. The Vicar was grateful to be informed.”
- Hounds Off specialises in giving help, support and advice to farmers, landowners and rural residents affected by hunt trespass. Joe Hashman, Founder, said, “We can help the Reverend Godfrey if she wants to make the churchyard into a hunt-free wildlife sanctuary. All she needs to do is visit the Action & Advice pages of our website or ask us. The same goes for anyone else, anywhere in the country.”
- Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors did not see anyone laying trails, or even pretending to lay trails, at any time throughout the day.
In recent weeks the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt;
- was supposedly ‘trailhunting’ beside and across the busy A352 until after dark on February 19 2019.
- killed a fox ‘accidentally’ on February 9 2019.
- carried on hunting with horses and hounds two days after equine flu was confirmed at a local riding stables.
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21st December 2018
On Wednesday I observed the Portman Hunt blatantly chasing foxes in Dorset.
At about 11.30am I saw two quad bikes and some riders appear over the brow of a low hill, then the Huntsman with his pack of hounds at heel. He took them to foxy-looking bit of rough ground and let them go off and sniff around. His voice calls encouraged them and he rolled his tongue in a way which has been practiced by generations of foxhunters and is designed to rouse their quarry.
After a while one hound started to bark. “Speaking,” hunters call it. Then another and another and within seconds all the twenty-odd hounds were on, actively hunting and speaking in unison, running in and out of thick hedges and undergrowth, back and fore between a woodyard and scrubland in pursuit of a fox who was, unseen, twisting and turning in front and trying to shake them off.
The Huntsman was cunningly wearing a black coat so as to blend in with other riders. Once things got going he stood back to make it look like he wasn’t in full control and could claim to a policeman or a Judge that any illegal foxhunting was accidental. Additionally, there were people scattered around in all directions on foot and no doubt some of them would claim they were “laying a trail”.
I knew they were illegally hunting but hadn’t seen the fox so didn’t report the crime.
Hounds hunted locally for well over half and hour. There was a quiet interlude before the noise started again. Can’t be certain what happened there but likely the fox had found a refuge and before the hunt could continue he had to be flushed out with smaller, specialist dogs. That’s why blokes follow on quad bikes equipped with terriers and spades. They deny it, of course they do, but actually it’s a fact.
Then I could see and hear, from my vantage, that the hunt had gone away. Before they disappeared from view they turned left-handed and after that I was unable to keep track.
I was with friends standing on guard on a piece of land where hunting is forbidden. At 12.50pm I saw a small dot moving, left to right, across a field in the distance and lifted my binoculars to have a closer look. It was a fox. I watched him for a few seconds until he ran out of view.
Sure enough, less than a minute later the whole pack poured through a hedge into that same field and followed precisely the same line as I had just seen the fox take. They disappeared from view in exactly the same place too. And following the hounds were the riders. Doubtless they were having a fine old time. “Just like the good old days,” you could almost hear them think.
That’s when I called the police on 101 and reported the illegal hunting as a wildlife crime. I explained exactly what I’d seen. I couldn’t stop the hunt and even if I had captured the scene on film (which I didn’t) the evidence wouldn’t have stood up to dishonest cross examination in a court of law. But at least it’s recorded and has become a statistic (Crime Log Number I19-186), which is important.
Modern day policing is statistics-led. This means that resources are allocated where, statistically, there is deemed to be most need.
My Sister-in-Law wrote the following short letter to the local paper after she witnessed and reported illegal foxhunting recently too (Crime Log Number 8-224), which we publish here because they didn’t.
“Standing in a back garden last Saturday (8 December) I was blessed with the scene of a fox running across the field beyond, its body full stretch as it sped over the grass underfoot. My awe was quickly broken as only a few seconds later a pack of hounds emerged hot on the fox’s tail. To my shock I was witnessing the local hunt in full motion.
“Fox hunting has been illegal for many years so to see the hunt chasing a fox was a shock and deeply saddening. There was nothing to suggest the hunt was going to call the hounds off, which is what I’ve since been told is supposed to happen.
“I am not naive in thinking that what I saw was anything other than what was intended … the chase … the kill and whatever it is that the people who take part in this type of sport get from doing this.
“I didn’t choose to see or be part of what happened just a few metres away from me that day, but it left me feeling distressed and angry.
“Why is it okay to flout the law in this cruel way?”
C Fawcett, Shaftesbury
© Joe Hashman
15th December 2018
Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana (second left) with (l to r) Joe Hashman (Hounds Off), Chris Williamson (MP), Penny Little (Protect Our Wild Animals) & Philip Mansbridge (IFAW) at the Trail Of Lies launch in 2015, a report written by Casamitjana which deconstructed & exposed the false alibi of so-called 'trail-hunting'.
Make no mistake, the bloodsports lobby are currently pitching hunting with hounds as a humane and cost-effective form of “wildlife management” with smarmy smiles and cleverly constructed, pseudo-scientific arguments. And they still believe that they can win.
On October 11th 2018 the Horse & Hound Magazine published and interview with ex-League Against Cruel Sports Executive Director turned pro-hunt advocate James Barrington, entitled “Hunting’s Most Valuable Asset?” Barrington is part of the Countryside Alliance and Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, both organisations which campaign for repeal of the Hunting Act (2004) and a return to the days when chasing and killing foxes, hare, mink and deer with packs of hounds was legal.
Dismissing or ignoring the relentless campaign of lies and misinformation would be foolish. That’s why Hounds Off invited zoologist Jordi Casamitjana to respond to the claims made by Mr Barrington and were pleased to publish these in a series of blog posts, the links for which are below. Do feel free to share any or all of them as appropriate. Read More >>
14th December 2018
Who in their right mind could approve of the so-called "sport" of hare coursing, where hares are forced to run for their lives in front of greyhounds (or similar fast running dogs) while spectators gawp, bookies profit and officials judge and award points for every twist, turn, trip and kill? Photo credit: Ed Maynard.
Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off
Mr Barrington and the Countryside Alliance keep saying it’s a myth that the majority of the population is against hunting (Horse & Hound, 11.10.18). They often refer to particular attendance of anti-hunting or pro-wildlife events as evidence. The truth is that in the last two decades there has not been any single poll that has not shown a majority of a UK population being against hunting. This must be quite hard to swallow for Mr Barrington because, despite all his efforts, the percentages of people against hunting keep rising. It’s well over the 80% mark now.
Of course he will now claim that polls undertaken by reputable polling companies using big random samples don’t show the reality of public opinion, suggesting instead we should just count how many people have attended a particular hunting protest or Parliamentary reception, then conclude those are the only people opposing hunting. And, of course, if he continues to ignore science it would not be surprising if he said that if no “antis” have attended a packed hunting ball or a pro-hunting countryside event, this must mean the anti-hunting sentiment has vanished and people in the UK now wants hunting back (which is kind of what he implies in the Horse & Hound article).
Mr Barrington also must be very frustrated when again and again attempts to repeal or weaken the Hunting Act 2004 have failed because a dwindling number of pro-hunt MPs, even during Conservative Governments.
I am sure he will not give up, though, as he has a job to do, so he will continue trying to deceive on-the-fence MPs (or MPs that are secretly pro-hunt) into believing that he can offer a supposedly “middle way” between the two sides of the hunting debate (as he did during the debate for the passing of the Hunting Act 2004).
Some MPs may fall into this as he will do that by disguising the repeal of the hunting ban with a new “Wild Mammals Protection Bill”, which will sound good, as will talk about protection of mammals and banning some horrible practices … but in the end it will introduce a licensing system which will allow only a “select” group of “experts” to undertake wild mammal “lethal” control … and you know who he will be referring to, don’t you? Yes, registered hunts, of course.
Fortunately, it would not take that much for those deceived politicians to realise the trap they were about to fall into. But it is important we keep vigilant and help them to avoid falling and persuade them instead to support any initiative to strengthen the Hunting Act 2004 and the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, to eliminate all the loopholes (such as the “flushing to guns” or the “observation and research” exemptions) and false alibis (such as “trail hunting”) which hunts constantly use to circumvent the law.
It’s not surprising that the rejection of hunting by the UK population, both rural and urban, in any constituency in the UK, is denied by Mr Barrington and colleagues. This is classic “denial”, which I am sure he has to do as part of his job … but he must know by now that there is no way back, for hunting, and for him.
If Mr Barrington is indeed “hunting‘s most valuable asset” we just need to be sure he doesn’t get away with false claims and sneaky political manoeuvres and keep him “at bay” every time he surfaces. Hunting with dogs is an obsolete cruel activity and eventually will be completely abolished, no matter which “assets” are used to derail this unstoppable social progress.
© Jordi Casamitjana
Hunting Myths Pt 1: The Snakeoil Salesman
Hunting Myths Pt 2: They Only Go For The Sick Old & Weak
Hunting Myths Pt 3: Hunting Is Efficient & Humane
Hunting Myths Pt 4: Hunting Is Natural
Hunting Myths Pt 5: Hunting Conserves The Countryside
Hunting Myths Pt 6: Hunting Is Wildlife Management
7th December 2018
OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off
PREVIOUSLY: Hunting Myths Part 1: The Snakeoil Salesman
Mr Barrington often repeats the classic claim that hunts only go for weak, diseased or old animals. This is completely untrue and there is no need to find any scientific research to prove it. We simply have to understand what hunting with hounds is and how it differs from shooting, lamping or snaring, which are other methods people use to kill wildlife.
Foxhunts, hare hunts, stag hunts and mink hunts use packs of hounds which locate a prey (“quarry”) and begin chasing it following its scent trail. Then, people on horse, motor vehicles or on foot follow the hounds through the countryside. This is the “fun” of the activity. The longer the chase, the better the hunting day. Weak or ill quarry animals would not run but hide as they don’t have the energy to flee, so there would not really be a chase if the hunts targeted those … and without a chase, there is no hunting.
The truth is that hounds do not “decide” to go for the weakest animals as they just follow a scent and have no idea of the condition of the animal they are chasing. This is why the Hunting Act 2004 – that was meant to ban hunting in England and Wales – outlawed the chase of the wild mammal with dogs, not actually the killing. Indeed, it makes it an offence to “engage or participate in the pursuit of a wild mammal with dogs”.
Incidentally, the hounds have been selectively bred over generations to run slower than their quarry but with superior stamina. This is one way to deliberately prolong the hunt and provide good “sport”.
And as far as the claim of chasing “old” animals is concerned, it is important to realise that in autumn each foxhunt engages in cub hunting to train their hounds to kill foxes. They go to woods, copses, fields of standing crops and other places where they know there is a fox den, they surround them so they cannot escape, and then they send the pack of hounds in to kill them. These are “cubs”, not old foxes, and every year an estimated 10,000 fox cubs are hunted by the UK hunts, even now.
Despite the claim of doing “trail hunting” (actually just a cover for illegal hunting) the hunts still need to train their hounds to chase and kill foxes, and they can only do that with the secretive and clandestine activity of “cub hunting” (which they have re-named “autumn hunting”).
Part 3 of this series will be published here tomorrow.
© Jordi Casamitjana
30th November 2018
From November through February deer hunters turn their attention, dogs and guns onto the females of the species. Red deer ‘hinds’ become the target. Often the hunt is little more than a shooting frenzy with multiple animals hounded then blasted. This was the case yesterday (29.11.18). I don’t know how many deer were killed by the Quantock Stag Hounds because most of their dirty work was hidden deep in private woods, but before midday I’d heard four gunshots. In the afternoon, two more deer were definitely taken and another possible before everyone dispersed and the Huntsman led seven hounds along the lanes back to their kennels. There seems to be less ritual afterwards. Maybe hinds don’t hold the allure of a majestic, beaten, stag. There are certainly less trophies to be had. You can cut off and mount the feet (known as ‘slots’) and pull out the teeth for ornaments but most hunt followers have plenty of these things already.
For us it was a difficult day and horrid. That said, we got some useful film which will help us continue to shine a light on this disgusting pastime, so I’m holding on to that. Some of it can be seen here.
At this time of year hinds might be pregnant, running with a first year calf still in tow, or both. They’re herd animals and like to stay close to home. So no long chases over miles of countryside here. Everything is much more contained as the deer run around in big circles, trying to shake off the hounds and dodge the bullets which can be around any corner or behind any tree.
In the interests of crop protection The Hunting Act (2004) permits the flushing of deer with two hounds providing that –
(a) reasonable steps are taken for the purpose of ensuring that as soon as possible after being found or flushed out the wild mammal is shot dead by a competent person, and
(b) in particular, each dog used in the stalking or flushing out is kept under sufficiently close control to ensure that it does not prevent or obstruct achievement of the objective in paragraph (a).
Sadly, the wording is sufficiently vague to enable versions of stag, and now hind, hunting to continue which satisfies the bestial urges in a minority of country ladies and gentlemen and leaves the rest of us sickened and confused.
Special thanks to fellow volunteers from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime. Thanks also to everyone who supports our work. We could not do this without your backing. If you’re able, please consider making a contribution towards our campaign running costs.
Stag hunting in Somerset, October 2018 watch here
© Joe Hashman
30th October 2018
SHOCKING FOOTAGE EMERGES OF STAG HUNTING JUST TEN MILES FROM TAUNTON
- Campaigners have released shocking footage of a Red deer stag being hunted by the Quantock Stag Hounds in Somerset on Thursday 25 October 2018.
- The hunt took place about ten miles from Taunton near the picturesque West Somerset Railway line at Crowcombe Heathfield and lasted for three hours.
- Hunters used combination of horse riders, dogs and four wheel drive vehicles to harass and harry the stag through woods for nearly two hours before forcing him out into the open, and on his own, for another hour.
- After being flushed from the woods, film clearly shows the stag running with his mouth gasping and tongue lolling. There is a heaviness to his gait.
- About an hour later two hounds, which had been set to follow the stag by scent, have chased him to exhaustion. The stag is ‘at bay’ behind a tree in undergrowth. Hounds can be clearly seen ‘marking’ their target; barking incessantly, rushing forwards and jumping back as the stag uses his antlers to keep them from attacking.
- Gunmen from the Quantock Stag Hounds get within close range but the stag jumps up and makes a bid to escape. Hounds give chase and five minutes later, away from cameras, the stag is killed.
- Hunt followers and riders gather in the woods for the traditional carve-up, where the body is divided into trophies for people to take away and remember their day.
Many people think that stag hunting was banned when the Hunting Act (2004) made chasing and killing most wild mammals with dogs illegal. But it hasn’t quite worked out like that. Stag hunters in the West Country have reinvented their bloodsport with subtle differences which allow them to exploit loopholes and exemptions which circumvent the law, including;
- Claiming to be conducting Research & Observation according to Schedule 1 (9) of The Hunting Act (2004), in the same way as Japanese and other whaling nations carry on killing under the pretence of scientific research.
- The Research exemption was intended to enable scientists to carry out their studies if they needed dogs to find a wild mammal. But it does not specify that people claiming Research under this exemption have to be scientists, that their research has to be genuine or that it should be non-lethal.
- The Observation part only requires a hunter to be looking at the stag when it is killed.
- Flushing to guns. The Hunting Act (2004) provides for this in Schedule 1 (1), so long as only two hounds are used and the stag is shot as soon as possible.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
- The National Trust banned stag hunting in 1997 after Professor Patrick Bateson published a report which found that hunting deer with hounds inflicted cruelty and distress far beyond anything they might experience in nature.
- Stag hunting was prohibited on Forestry Commission land in 1997 too.
- Campaigners have documented numerous incidents of trespass by the Quantock Stag Hounds on National Trust and Forestry Commission land during September and October 2018.
- The Quantock Stag Hounds hunt deer with dogs Mondays and Thursdays throughout September to April.
For more information or interviews please contact:
Somerset Wildlife Crime: 07572495309
Hounds Off: 07711 032697
18th October 2018
GOVERNMENT DEFENDS WILDLIFE CRIME IN PUBLICLY OWNED FORESTS
Yesterday, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs responded to a petition calling for an end to the licensing of so-called ‘trail hunts’ on the Public Forest Estate, which is owned & managed by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the public. The response is pretty much a paraphrased Countryside Alliance press release and there are a couple of things they’ve either overlooked, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not:
– The petition specifically doesn’t call for an end to licences given to hunts which have agreements formed under a general agreement with the Master of Draghounds & Bloodhounds Association (MDBA), as drag hunting & clean boot hunting are not covers for wildlife crime.
– DEFRA’s response omits that licences are also granted to hunts under a general agreement with the Association of Masters of Harriers & Beagles (AMHB), such as the New Forest Beagles.
Most importantly, though, they’ve regurgitated one of the most worn out lies in the country and they’ve done so without scrutiny. This is, of course, that fox & hare hunts have stopped hunting live quarry and started to ‘trail hunt’.
‘Trail hunting is a legitimate activity … Many hunts have since turned to trail hunting as an alternative to live quarry hunting…’ – DEFRA, 17th October 2018.
Here’s a couple of brief reasons why this is rubbish:
– In 2014, a review of RSPCA prosecuting activity was published by Stephen Wooler CB, a former Chief Inspector for the Crown Prosecution Service. On P109/s9.1 it stated that: ‘The evidence reviewed leaves no room for doubt that, despite the 2004 legislation, traditional fox hunting remains “business as usual” in many parts of the country.’
– Both before & after the Wooler Review, hunts that have been licensed to use public land by the Forestry Commission have been convicted; the Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt were convicted under the Hunting Act 2004 based on footage from Derby Hunt Saboteurs and the Cottesmore Hunt were convicted under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 based on footage from the League Against Cruel Sports.
DEFRA have rejected the requests of the petition on a completely false premise. It remains open & ongoing to gain signatures, and needs 100,000 signatures before 18th March 2019. If you haven’t signed this already, please do so here!
© Jack Riggall
13th October 2018
HOUNDS OFF OPINION
The National Trust has started issuing licences for foxhunt packs to carry out so-called trailhunting on their land. But this season the business-as-usual status quo has changed slightly. Licences will now be open to public scrutiny and a small team has been appointed to oversee this activity. For many this is not enough, for others it’ll be too much.
Myself, I’m a realist. I know the National Trust is a huge chuntering juggernaut of a conservation charity which must cater for a wide spectrum of opinions and beliefs. I know how frustratingly slow it can be to effect positive change but I also recognise that the National Trust has a history of being led by its Members and it is always worth using your voice and your vote.
So it was that on Friday 12 October I travelled to Birmingham and, with Jack Riggall from National Dis-Trust, met with Nick Droy and Rob Rhodes from the National Trust. Nick is five weeks into his role of Trailhunting Manager and Rob (who attended via telephone) is the Head of Countryside Management & Rangers.
Trailhunting Manager is a new post, created by the National Trust in response to concern from Members and the public that trailhunting is nothing more than a false alibi used to provide a cover for illegally chasing and killing wild mammals with dogs.
Nick told us that his professional background is in practical countryside management at both regional and national levels and it started eighteen years ago when he was himself a National Trust volunteer. He explained that he has no hunting in his background and is approaching this complex issue with a fresh eye and open mind.
Nick will lead a team of three; an office-based co-ordinator and a worker who will assist in carrying out face to face engagements, checks in the field and monitoring of so-called trailhunting on National Trust land.
This season, the Trailhunting Team will be conducting one pre-arranged inspection of each Hunt which is granted a licence by the National Trust. My problem with this is that it provides an easy way for #TrailHuntLies to avoid detection because when Nick is about Hunts will temporarily change the way they behave.
I told Nick and Rob this and referred them to a 2015 report called Trail Of Lies. It is a fantastically complete and in-depth exposé of how Hunts have used trailhunting to circumvent the law, to carry on abusing and killing. The only problem with Trail Of Lies is that it was complied and produced by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and so hunters consider it to be propaganda.
What happened was the RSPCA had grasped the nettle in terms of taking private Hunting Act prosecutions and landed seminal convictions against the prestigious Heythrop Hunt in 2012. The Countryside Alliance went ballistic and set out to destroy their opponents.
Their criticism reached a crescendo in January 2013 when former Countryside Alliance head honcho Simon Hart MP initiated a debate in the House of Commons about prosecutions brought by the RSPCA and in response Her Majesty’s Attourney General suggested that an independent review could be advantageous. The RSPCA Council took heed and appointed Stephen Wooler CB to do this. Wooler is a Barrister and former Chief Inspector to the Crown Prosecution Service.
During our meeting I read a passage from the Wooler Review and asked Nick to think of his Trailhunting Team as being the police officers to which Wooler refers;
“Securing the evidence neccasary to mount effective prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004 in respect of mainstream foxhunting therefore requires far more than sending a team of police officers to take the names and addresses of those at a hunt gathering. The evidence required is such that it is unlikely to be achieved through police presence and observations alone since behaviours would then be likely to change.” (1)
In fact, Wooler goes on to describe a “cat and mouse game between hunting participants and supporters and those endeavouring to gather evidence through observations and recordings.” (2)
I concur with Wooler (2014) and Trail Of Lies (2015): giving hunters a heads-up when they’ll be monitored on National Trust land is rather like the police telling a burglar when they’ll be round to look for stolen goods.
As Trailhunting Manager, it is part of Nick Droy’s job description (and background research) to meet with the likes of Jack and myself. I found him to be friendly, open and likeable. That’s a good start, but I do believe that there are fundamental flaws in how the National Trust have instructed him to carry out his duties. We agreed to keep lines of communication open and meet again next summer. Doubtless much will happen between now and then.
© Joe Hashman
(1) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 5.
(2) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 6.
Hounds Off is run by volunteers. We rely on public support to fund our work. If you would like to contribute please do so here.
Costs incurred on 12 October 2018;
Return travel by road from Dorset to Oxford (179 miles at 44 pence per mile) = £78.76; Oxford to Birmingham New Street return, by train (Adult Standard Class) = £79.20; Total = £157.96
9th October 2018
There was a moment yesterday when I thought that the Quantock Stag Hounds had decided not to go hunting but alas it wasn’t so. In the end they killed a stag and took the body to a farm to carve it up. Men and women supped cans of drink and watched in gory fascination as the Huntsman, elbow deep in warm blood, dished out bits of inneds and butchered the animal at their feet, in front of their eyes.
They started not far from Bishops Lydiard which itself is a stones throw from Taunton. I was part of a team of Hunt Monitors. We were parked near the beauty spot of Lydiard Hill, by some horseboxes. We anticipated that the Hunt would come in this direction.
Shortly after 11am my radio crackled and the message came through that there was movement our way. Then a gaggle of hunt riders came along the lane, gave us a bit of verbal, loaded their horses into the boxes, and drove off. That was when, fleetingly, I vain hoped they were going to leave stags on the Quantock Hills in peace.
Instead, the Hunt relocated. We got a message that they were up Crowcombe and sure enough that’s where they were hunting.
Staghunting on the Quantocks is not what it was. Prosecutions, campaigning pressure and changing attitudes from the police have forced them to stop using a pack of a dozen or more hounds to chase stags to exhaustion. This season, which started at the end of August, they’ve been using two hounds and an army of riders and vehicle followers to chase and chaperone their quarry. It’s a tactic which staghunters on Exmoor have employed for years now and I think they believe it exempts them from prosecution under the Hunting Act.
There were a couple of huntable stags in Crowcombe Park but an especially big fellow was the target. It took a while for the Hunt to flush him up onto the hills but eventually their pressure forced him out.
I was tracking the Quantock Stag Hounds (QSH) in a vehicle, in communication with others who were both mobile and on foot. From hilltops you get some fantastic views but the Quantock Hills are characterised by large blocks of woodland and numerous steep, deep valleys known as ‘combes’. The staghunters know this landscape intimately and are skilled at operating simultaneously in the open yet out of sight, if that makes sense.
The stag was somewhere below a high spot called Bicknoller Post. Horsemen and women lined the tracks and combe sides. The stag didn’t appear keen to run. It’s mating season for Red deer in Devon and Somerset (the ‘rut’) so likely he was pretty tired from all that. I thought they were going to shoot him there and then but no, they wanted some sport.
What followed was not a high speed, high adrenalin gallop and chase over the countryside. It was more akin to a slow walk. The stag kept low among whatever cover he could find to hide in and the hunters, co-ordinated by radios and aided by their two dogs, pushed the deer along and steered him away from our eyes and camera lenses.
We drove into the picturesque village of Holford. By now we had a hunt supporter tailing us. We waited to let a party of schoolchildren pass. I hoped they saw the anti hunting stickers in the car window and that’s why they smiled and waved and shouted hello as adults in yellow tabbards shepherded them safely to the side. Or, more likely, they were just naturally excited to be exploring such a beautiful place.
A sharp right and left and we were in the car park with dog walkers and tourists. Our hunt tail parked up herself and ran to keep tabs on the foot team we deployed. I drove up a remote, single track lane and at the end was a gathering of elderly hunt supporters in cars.
A number of wooded combes with streams converge at Holford and in the recent past it was a favourite killing place for the QSH. But these days they are no longer Kings of the Hills. They skulk more. Red coats have been swapped for fawny brown. They’re quieter. They still take up a lot of space but they try to avoid clogging villages with four-wheel drives and quad bikes. They are adept at chaperoning their stag quite discreetly away from public gaze.
There were moments while we were in Holford. We heard the hunting horn and urgent, loud shouting. Vehicles travelled at dangerous pace on bumpy lanes back and forth. But nothing more than that came our way.
Our teams of Hunt Monitors communicate by walkie-talkie and telephone, neither of which work well in this area of Somerset. It’s hard to be in the right place at the right time anyway but when communications are poor because the signal isn’t great it’s even harder. We believed that the hunted stag had left the Hills for farmland near Kilve but weren’t sure.
The stag was killed south of the A39 near Kilve late in the afternoon, in the depths of private property, and taken to a nearby farmyard for the post-orgasmic ‘carve up’. They were not happy about us trying to take some pictures and it was difficult anyway as they’d hidden themselves behind buildings. Out of sight but not out of our minds.
That was the bloody reality of staghunting on the Quantock Hills this day, 8th October 2018.
Volunteers from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime continue to monitor staghunting on the Quantocks, bear witness and gather evidence to show how hunts are operating. You can support our work here. Mark your donation ‘QSH’ and we will dedicate it to this specific fund.
© Joe Hashman