3rd March 2019
March 1st is when Spring Staghunting starts on the Quantock Hills and Exmoor. ‘Spring’ stags are the young adults, the stags with most energy and va-va-voom. These are a staghunters favourite quarry because they run hard, fast and long. For those who delight in chasing then killing fit and healthy Red deer then March and April are the most exciting months of the year.
Two years ago Teresa, a Quantock Hills resident, contacted Hounds Off and told us her story.
Teresa was in her kitchen. It was just after lunchtime. She could hear the Quantock Stag Hounds hunting really close and then saw out the window a hound by her garden pond. She grabbed her iPad to and went outside to take some film. The noise was suddenly deafening. There was a stag in her garden, up by the summerhouse. Other hounds were in the garden too and the stag moved towards the compost heap.
A huntsman was just beyond the garden fence. He asked Teresa for permission to shoot the stag and she said, “No”. She asked the man his name and what he was doing. He said that she didn’t need to know. More hounds came in to the garden. Teresa reckoned there were about seven but they were hard to count because of so much movement.
By now the stag had climbed on top of the compost heap. There were riders looking down from the hill up above and conversations could be heard between unseen hunters on walkie-talkies. Numerous vehicles were parked on her private entrance drive with people standing and watching.
Suddenly there were four burly men at close quarters. The man who wanted to shoot the stag warned Teresa not to interfere in case the dogs attacked her. She was frightened because, as she told us afterwards, “I was outnumbered and could see that their blood was up.”
The dogs had chased the stag off the compost heap but he returned and was again at bay.
Teresa said, “The stag was surrounded by hounds and huntsmen and was clearly exhausted and petrified. I felt I needed to protect it. I felt strongly that it was not just right that I protect it, but it was my right to protect it. Not just because I don’t agree with hunting with dogs, but because it was in my garden and I should have been able to save it. My garden was its sanctuary.”
Again, she told the hunters to call their hounds off. One young, thick-set individual threatened to call the police because he said she was “harbouring a deer.” He also threatened to call the RSPCA, shouting that the stag was injured and had to be killed. But they did manhandle their dogs over the fence and remove themselves as well.
Another man who Teresa didn’t know or recognise appeared. He also refused to identify himself and joined the other hunters. They huddled together and then, right in front of Teresa, stormed into her garden, ran towards the stag and physically pushed it off the compost heap, over the fence and away towards private farmland. The men and their dogs, the riders and the people in cars all followed in different directions as fast as they could.
Teresa was totally shocked and shaken. She immediately called the police to report the incident.
A couple of hours later two huntspeople called at the house. Only one of them would give his name. He said that they were “trailhunting” with eleven hounds when unfortunately this young, injured stag jumped up in front and caused a distraction. They decided to kill it because, apparently, it was injured. Their excuses were not believed and apologies not accepted.
“A day later the Huntsman left a message to tell me the stag had been previously shot by a .22 rifle. I learnt later from the police it was in the chest,” Teresa recalled, “But this exposed them as liars. I was stood ten feet away from the stag for some time. There was no injury to the chest, old or new, but it was exhausted. I didn’t realize it then, but subsequently I found out that they have used this excuse before to exploit a loophole in the Hunting Act. I thought at the time that it was a really odd thing to say that they would call the police because ‘I was harbouring a sick deer’, but I later realized that they worked out which angle they were going to use to get out of this, hence why they didn’t care about me filming.”
Avon & Somerset Constabulary completely failed to take Teresa’s allegation of illegal hunting seriously and it appears that there was a deliberate block put on conducting even a cursory investigation. The Quantock Stag Hounds got away with it. But we helped call the police failures to account. Crucially, over a year later their own Professional Standards Department upheld six out of nine points of complaint.
Teresa said, “When I reflect back with the knowledge I have gained over the last two years, I know that the Hunting Act has to change. Any reasonable person looking at the facts knows exactly what these hunts are up to. But the legal system is choosing to ignore the test of the reasonable person. As it stands today it is almost impossible to prove illegal hunting and get a conviction.”
Her immediate neighbours are the National Trust and she feels let down by them, too. Despite receiving all the evidence and her witness statement, and despite the fact that they themselves banned deer hunting with dogs on their land in 1997, the Quantock Stag Hounds frequently hunt across forbidden land. As recently as January 28th this year they held a fundraising meet and then hunted on National Trust land. Clearly this is unacceptable and we are in dialogue with the Trust to work out how to prevent future arrogant flouting.
Rural residents have turned to us in desperation and we answered their call. Our tactics are simple; in partnership with Somerset Wildlife Crime and individuals, groups and organisations who want to work with us, we’re shining a light on modern day staghunting. Please see the following links for more details:
- Your Membership (of the National Trust) And Voice Matters
- Staghunting On The Quantock Hills 08.10.18
- Press Release: Staghunting In Somerset, October 2018
- Nowhere To Hide
- Another Wretched day With The Quantock Stag Hounds
- Quantock Stag Hounds Meet Fundraise Hunt On National Trust Land 28.01.09
- How To Report Hunt Incidents To The National Trust
- Stag Hunters Break Convention To Ensure Valentines Day Sport
- Quantock Stag Hounds After Another One
Please consider making a donation to our campaign. We couldn’t do what we do without you.
© Joe Hashman. Founder; Hounds Off
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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16th February 2019
Hunted by the Quantock Stag Hounds on Valentines Day 2019. With no female deer (hinds) in the area, hunters told us this animal was selected because it had a "displaced hip". We question the honesty of their claim because this stag ran for miles across open country and escaped to see another day. Read more, below. Photo: © Kevin Hill/Hounds Off
Hunters claims that a Red deer stag chased by the Quantock Stag Hounds on Valentines Day was suffering from hip displacement have been seriously questioned by observers. The creature was chased for over two miles as the crow flies, many more as they ran, between 1.30pm and 3.30pm. In the moments before the hunt ended, huntsman and hounds were seen to be fruitlessly trying to find the stag in field hedges near the West Somerset village of Clatworthy.
Experienced Hunt Monitor Kevin Hill, who was part of a team of volunteers from Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off, filmed the allegedly injured stag in the old slate quarry woods below Brompton Ralph. He said, “The stag looked in good shape to me. He travelled through the woods jumping felled trees!”
The claim that the stag was injured was made to Mr Hill by hunt followers when he asked them why a male Red deer was being pursued at a time of year when females are the traditional target.
Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors believe that this was just an excuse because the hunt couldn’t find any females to chase. They only saw stags, roe deer and a fox roused into flight by hounds. That hinds are quarry from November through February is just hunting convention and, on this occasion, in order to get some ‘sport’ it had to be broken.
© Joe Hashman
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29th January 2019
Members of the Quantock Stag Hounds meet on National Trust land at Beacon Hill Car Park, Staple Plain, West Quantoxhead, Somerset on Monday 28 January 2019. The National Trust banned all deer hunting with dogs from their properties in 1997. Photo © Hounds Off
The Quantock Stag Hounds know that they’re banned from hunting on National Trust land. So imagine our surprise when yesterday, Monday 28th January 2019, they gathered at 11am with all their dogs, horseriders, motorbikes, quads, four-wheel drives and hangers-on in Beacon Hill Car Park, Staple Plain, West Quantoxhead, Somerset. Beacon Hill is owned by the National Trust!
Not only did the Quantock Stag Hounds meet on forbidden land but they held a whisky raffle as well, to raise money for hunt funds.
Shortly after 11.30am they set off over the hills to hunt female Red deer in the remote wooded valleys around Holford and then, at around 2.30pm, they were back on National Trust land between Beacon Hill and Weacombe Hill. I watched and filmed as the Huntsman and Whipper-In (the Huntsmans assistant) used two hounds to search for deer in Weacombe Combe.
At this time of year female Red deer, known as ‘hinds’, are the quarry.
Hind Hunting isn’t what is used to be. Since technically being outlawed in 2005, hunters have changed their modus operandi. These days they only use two hounds to track deer and in realty, hinds are hunted as much by humans as dogs. Everyone is linked by mobile phones and radios to co-ordinate their movements. There’s very little chasing. When deer are roused from cover they have to dodge pot-shots from strategically positioned assasins armed with short-barrelled shotguns.
It does seem crazy that in an area of outstanding natural beauty, frequented by dozens of people enjoying recreation which has nothing to do with bloodsports, the Quantock Stag Hounds can send their supporters out into the thick of it wielding live firearms.
I was part of a team of Hunt Monitors from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime. We’ve been keeping an eye on the Quantock Stag Hounds every week since September last year. On 28.01.19 we had a foot team deployed near Holford and around midday they reported hearing gunshot. We believe that a calf was separated from its mother and wounded with a botched shot, because, after the gunshot, frantic voices were heard from deep down in a valley near a place called Lady’s Edge.
Kevin Hill is one of our most experienced Monitors. He’s been monitoring staghunting in the West Country for over 35 years. After hearing gunshot in the Lady’s Edge area Kevin reported, “A short while later a lone hind was observed that appeared to be searching for her calf. She was alert and displayed a nervous attitude, moving and stopping and looking in all directions.”
Monitoring deer hunting is really difficult. In the woods, often you can hear but not see.
We have informed the National Trust of unlicensed deer hunting with dogs on their land and are currently helping them with their enquiries.
We are all volunteers and give our time freely. If you support what we do and would like to help cover our fuel and equipment costs please consider buying us a ‘coffee’:
Learn more about the campaign to ban all live animal hunting with dogs on National Trust land, here.
© Joe Hashman
25th January 2019
A beautiful Hounds Off ‘Sleeping Fox’ stained-glass window can be hand-crafted specially for you by our wonderful, talented supporter Paul Snell. Each one measures 20.5cm square and will arrive securely packaged to your home four to six weeks after placing your order, complete with a small length of chain for hanging purposes (if you don’t live in an actual church).
Hounds Off ‘Sleeping Fox’ stained-glass windows by Paul Snell cost £70 each plus £6.50 postage & packing.
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When a friend tagged us in to a Facebook post which Paul had uploaded, showing the first Sleeping Fox stained-glass window in process, we were genuinely moved by the effort and care being taken over representing our much-loved logo in this way. And it feels appropriate to give a respectful nod towards the man who brought our vision to life in the first place, Boo & Stu artist Stu Jones.
Joe Hashman, Founder; Hounds Off
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
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
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
6th October 2018
You could be forgiven for wondering why the Ilminster Beagles are not getting done for illegal hunting because film of them finding and chasing hares on 29 September 2018 is quite clear. The problem is that hunters have found cunning ways to avoid the law and one of their dishonest excuses is to cry “Accident!”
What the film of hare hunting near Langport, Somerset shows is the beagle pack searching for, finding and pursuing a hare. The dogs are sniffing around seeking the scent of their quarry when suddenly the hare jumps up from right under their noses and sprints away as the beagles start barking excitedly and giving chase.
This is exactly how many hare hunts started before the Hunting Act came in to force in 2005 so why are they not liable? Well, there is a subtle difference which provides an excuse that gets them off the hook. Read on.
Look at the pictures at the head of this blog. Toppermost is a painting by avid sporting artist Tom Ilvester Lloyd (1873-1942). It portrays “the find”, that moment when a hare springs up literally in front of hounds and the hunt begins. Ilvester Lloyd entitled his work The First Essential Towards Sport which says it all, really.
Now look at the grab below, taken from film of the Ilminster Beagles on 29 September 2018. This also captures the precise second when a hare is found and forced to make a run for it. It’s a post-ban, real-life version of The First Essential Towards Sport.
The reason why the Hunting Act cannot be enforced on the Ilminster Beagles is because in the evidence there are no humans in shot and therefore the Huntsman can claim that hunting of the hare took place by accident. Alas, thanks to a fundamental desire to circumvent the law and some unfathomable decisions in the Courts, crying “Accident!” is a get-out-of-jail card which hunters up and down the country are playing every time they go out.
Interestingly, when the hunted hare runs close to roe deer and the Ilminster Beagles switch to following them, hunt staff are close enough to be able to stop them and prevent a riot.
It’s a shame that the police are so under-resourced. A little targeted training would help them understand why and how huntsmen and women across the land are cocking a snook at them (and us) and go a long way to preventing wildlife crime in the first place.
Illegal hunting by the Ilminster Beagles on 29 September 2018 was reported to Avon & Somerset Police and is recorded with the following Incident Number: AS-20180929-0304.
WATCH OUR FILM OF BEAGLING IN 2018 here.
HOW FOXHUNT MASTER CLAIMED “ACCIDENT” TO AVOID PROSECUTION film and report here.
IF YOU SEE BEAGLING phone the police on 101 or 999. Make sure that they record your call and give you an Incident Number.
IF YOU HEAR ABOUT BEAGLING tell us! All information is treated in confidence.
© Joe Hashman