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
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
Support what we do? Keep our service sustainable & volunteers in the field – buy us a Ko-Fi;
1st February 2019
Report illegal, thuggish, dangerous and disrespectful hunt behaviour to the National Trust in a consistent way that makes it harder for them to ignore:
Report illegal, thuggish, dangerous or disrespectful actions or behaviour regardless of whether it happens on National Trust land because they should take this in to account when deciding to issue a licence, or not.
Report hunts licenced by the National Trust.
Report unlicensed hunts that are trespassing on National Trust land.
- If you need to find out which hunts are currently licensed by the National Trust, all dates & maps can be seen on our Facebook page here.
- The individual ‘photo albums’ for each hunt licence also contain the contact details for the local National Trust staff who manage the area being hunted.
- If you need to confirm if the National Trust own a particular bit of land, their property boundaries can all be seen here (NOTE: please use the ‘explore’ function to open a map).
What To Report
- Brief/concise accounts of what happened, where & when.
- Presence of terriermen.
- Blocked or damaged badger setts (if any have been discovered).
- Aggression, intimidation, abuse or violent behaviour from hunt staff or supporters.
- Any police incident numbers or crime reference numbers you have been given (always make sure to ask for these when reporting illegal hunting to the police).
- If you are able to film what’s happening please do because footage can help. If you weren’t able film or photograph then please still provide a written account of what you saw to the National Trust and don’t let them dismiss you for not having footage.
Who To Report It To
- Contact details for the most relevant point of contact within the National Trust for each hunt licence can be found here.
- In addition to this, please also CC in Nick Droy and his ‘trail hunting’ management team at firstname.lastname@example.org as well as ourselves at email@example.com
- National Dis-Trust volunteers will always be on hand if you are unsure about how to go ahead with any of the above (especially hunt trespass) as relevant National Trust contact details may not be readily available.
- Contact us on Facebook, Twitter or via firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Riggall, National Dis-Trust.
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
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 >>
13th December 2018
Pest Control, wildlife management or simply a cruel sport which made some money & satisfied the bestial urges of a sadistic minority? Here, now defunct New Forest Buckhounds Huntsman John Stride fumbles in his pocket for a gun whilst straddling an exhausted fallow buck run to collapse in a stream. Stills from a film taken in 1995 by Wildlife Action.
Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off
Perhaps the claim that wild animals need to be lethally managed by people is the most crucial false argument Mr Barrington uses in his rhetoric (Horse & Hound, 11.10.18). He always tries to get others to accept this claim before he then moves with the claim that ‘if they need to be killed, better do it with dogs’. But the truth is that in most cases, wildlife doesn’t need to be managed. In most cases, natural ecosystems (and the wildlife in them) need to be preserved by preventing humans’ interference and letting Nature to find its own balance. And in the cases where Nature needs a helping hand because we humans have messed the ecosystem too much, there are plenty of feasible wildlife management methods that are not lethal, and therefore are not based on killing wildlife (such as fencing, shepherding, translocations, management of available food, deterrents, etc.).
Unfortunately this dangerous idea that killing is necessary to succeed is very much entrenched in the minds of many landowners, from farmers killing wildlife around their land to protect their ‘products’, to shooting estates eliminating predators of the animals they want to sell as live targets for the guns, to conservation organisations obsessed with the preservation of a particular species and wanting to kill other animals that compete with them.
As such, non-lethal methods of wildlife management are often ignored and unnecessary killing is chosen when it should have been avoided. This accounts for the examples Mr Barrington uses in the article, which he uses as either examples of compulsion (‘it needs to be done’) or hypocrisy ( ‘we have to do it but we want to keep it secret’), as if somehow validates such practices. These examples of Mr Barrington’s lethal ideas are so dangerous that even some organisations which should be protecting animals are unfortunately (and erroneously) seduced by them, causing much unnecessary suffering and death.
In the case of foxes it is particularly true that they don’t need lethal control, as a lot of research has already proven that the fox population is not growing out of control, and their ‘negative’ effect on farming has been greatly exaggerated. Research has already shown how little foxes contribute to lamb predation and that it is likely that when a shepherd finds evidence of a fox eating a lamb this may be because the lamb died from other causes. The fox is just being a scavenger.
And foxes who take advantage of poor human husbandry by getting into henhouses do not kill more than they can eat at one sitting for the sheer fun of it. ‘Surplus killing’, as it is known, is a survival technique which has evolved in foxes to guard against future food shortages.
Fox populations self-regulate because they are composed by territorial animals, so the populations are kept more or less stable if the space and food availability does not change. And if there is a problem with a particular fox, killing it may make it worse. If farmers remove an older fox with any lethal wildlife management method because they consider this fox ‘vermin’ another young fox will replace it very soon after as the territory become vacant and no longer defended by the older fox. This new fox is most likely to be more ‘problematic’ to farming as it is likely to be more inexperienced and not know the territory well, venturing more into places it is not welcomed (the areas where livestock are kept), and thus making the ‘problem’ even worse.
In Mr Barrington‘s article it is claimed that hunting provides a huge level of controlled public access to private land, but everyone who has attempted to monitor hunting knows how false this is. It is precisely the fact hunts these days use much private land which the public are not allowed to enter which allows them to hunt illegally with impunity, as it is difficult to obtain evidence without such access. Hunt supporters don’t hesitate to prevent public access to rights of way and common land because they fear that anyone who does not belong to their fraternity may end up reporting them to the authorities when they witness what they actually do.
From blocking roads with their vehicles to physically assaulting bystanders, the hunting fraternity is well known for their intimidation and violent tactics towards the general public, so this claim is quite ludicrous.
© 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
8th December 2018
Nothing humane or quick about the hunting & killing of this healthy stag by the Quantock Stag Hounds on August 29th 1995. By definition, without the Hunting Act such atrocities would be legal. Stills grab from film taken by Kevin Hill.
OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off
Mr Barrington claims (Horse & Hound, 11.10.18) that hunting causes less animal suffering than other ways to kill such as shooting. This is not true. He claims that shooters often miss and injure the animals they target (which is true and this is why shooting should also be banned) and so hunting is a better alternative. However, he completely omits three key facts:
1) Only in hunting you have the psychological and physical suffering caused by the prolonged chase, which Professor Bateson and Elizabeth L. Bradshaw famously proved with their undisputed research which led to the banning of staghunting in National Trust land many years ago (a ban which, unfortunately, the NT does very little to enforce).
2) The animals may also be injured by the hounds and not be killed straight away if they managed to hide underground on time or to flee into land the hounds cannot enter.
3) Dogs, like most canids (wolves, hyenas, etc.), would not kill their prey by a quick bite in the neck as felids (cats, tigers, etc.) do, but by biting any part of the body they can reach, and keep biting. Therefore, the actual death along (ignoring the suffering already caused by the long chase) is likely to cause lots of pain and suffering.
Need more proof? If a horse is fatally injured in a race, a dangerous animal escapes from a zoo, or diseased livestock needs to be put down, what is the “humane” method the authorities choose to kill the animal? Do they choose death by “dog bites”?
Mr Barrington often claims that hunting is the most efficient way to control foxes, deer and hare. This is a curious way to use the term “efficient”, as it actually means “achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.” So, comparing it with other wildlife control activities (unfortunately still legal) such as shooting or snaring, how can it be more efficient?
Productivity wise – in this case meaning number of animals killed – a foxhunt will spend most of the day hunting an average of three or four foxes. Often some of these, if not all, get away. And the “wasted effort or expense” of this? Four or five paid hunt staff, dozens of paying filed riders, large vehicles to move the animals around, maintaining large pack of hounds, all the horses and their keep, expensive uniforms, and even all the policing due to allegations of illegal hunting, and public order issues when hunt saboteurs, hunt monitors or other witnesses are around … compared with a vehicle, a torch and a gun, or a stalker, or just a few snares. The most efficient, really? To be clear I think shooting, snaring and hunting should all be banned because they are all cruel and unnecessary. However, if they are ranked by efficiency, how anyone can seriously claim that hunting is the most efficient?
But let’s be generous and accept that there may be people out there who genuinely believe hunts are real “wildlife managers”. Well, it they want to call them like that then hunts are the least effective, least efficient and least humane wildlife managers in existence. So much so, that it almost looks like rather than be composed by ecologists, zoologist, veterinarians or anthropologists with a deep understanding of wildlife and the environment , they are composed by horse riders, bird shooters, dog breeders, livestock farmers, badger baiters and fox diggers. Oh wait … that’s why!
© Jordi Casamitjana
Hunting Myths Pt 1: The Snakeoil Salesman
Hunting Myths Pt 2: They Only Go For The Sick Old & Weak
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
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