Step foot onto Exmoor and the night is total: no sounds save the hoot of a lone owl, no light to guide the way unless the twinkle of the stars or a moon uncovered by cloud. But this is October, and cloud there very definitely was. I’ve never known darkness like it.

Managed woodland provides a safe habitat for lots of different species

We were staying at Baronsdown, the League Against Cruel Sports’ wildlife sanctuary near Dulverton, in the Exmoor National Park. It’s a haven for wildlife; managed fields and woodland is habitat for an abundance of dormice, moths and butterflies, about a million pheasants, birds of prey, and, of course, deer. The estate used to be home to hunting and shooting enthusiasts, but now provides a safe place for wild deer to escape the guns and hounds.

It was our first visit there, and we stayed in Hales House - formerly known as Little Baronsdown - bought by the League in 2016 thanks to a very generous legacy from the industrialist and animal welfare enthusiast Stan Hales. Using the house as a base we walked up and down the tracks that ribbon through the Baronsdown estate, spotting deer peering at us through the trees, hearing the vocal calls of the rutting stags and, finally, seeing some of the Baronsdown herd peacefully laying down in a field.

A majestic stag peers at us through the foliage at the League’s Baronsdown sanctuary. Picture courtesy of Phil Jackson

We have around 100 deer on our land at any one time, though more stags will be making their way to us as the rutting season progresses. Why anyone would want to shoot these animals with anything other than a camera, just for the ‘sport’ of it, is beyond me.
It’s thanks to the generosity of our supporters, and not least Mr Hales, that we have such a wonderful place in the heart of the countryside, and I would urge anyone who is a member to take advantage of the member events we hold at Baronsdown and see for themselves the wonderful happy, healthy deer that call our land their home.

A majestic stag peers at us through the foliage at the League’s Baronsdown sanctuary. Picture courtesy of Phil Jackson

This weekend it’s our rutting event and I for one know all those who go will be in for a treat. Not a member? Join us today so you too can take part in these events.