Celebrating 60 years of the first League sanctuary

21st March 1958 was a momentous day in the history of the League Against Cruel Sports.  60 years ago today, Joseph Sharp (secretary) and Edward Hemingway (chairman) purchased the freehold for Slowley and Side Woods, near Luxborough in West Somerset and created the first League Against Cruel Sports sanctuary “for wild animals, particular those that are hunted.”

Slowley and Side Woods were purchased from the renowned painter, Garnet Ruskin Wolseley and they had been part of the Nettlecombe Estate. The previous owner, Sir Willoughby Trevelyan, was an enthusiastic supporter of the West Somerset Foxhounds and formed the Nettlecombe Harriers. The purchase of this 165 acres block of woodland, along with the ‘sporting’ rights that went with them, was a hugely symbolic statement of intent from the League and due notice to the hunters that public opinion was turning against their bloodsport.

Fox cub in Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary

The following year, the League bought Barlynch Wood, near Dulverton, which is now part of the League’s flagship Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary. Baronsdown was also once the centre of a hunting estate and at one point the North Devon Staghounds were kennelled there. The Culmstock Otterhounds used to hunt otters on the River Exe that passes through the sanctuary and signs of visiting otters can still be found there today. A hunting report from 1914 detailed how the Dulverton Foxhounds chased a fox from the rhododendrons at Baronsdown to Dunster Deer Park, 9 miles away, and it is also recorded that the Parson Jack Russell, of terrier fame, was blooded on a hunt at Baronsdown.

The League continued to buy land and sporting rights throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s and right up to 2010, when Brockhole Wood was added to the Baronsdown sanctuary. The League currently owns 9 wildlife sanctuaries in Devon and Somerset, totalling 550 acres and a further 2,500 acres of sporting rights.

In 1985, the League was forced to take the joint masters of the Devon & Somerset Staghounds to court after their hounds repeatedly trespassed onto sanctuary land. A legal precedent was set and the masters were ordered to pay damages, as well as being served with an injunction. This led to a number of other successful court cases against hunts across the country. The current masters of the numerous hunts that operate around the League sanctuaries would do well to take heed.

Deer in Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary

Of course, the hunters resented the League purchasing land and spoiling their fun. Almost immediately they started a campaign of making spurious allegations and threats against the League; a campaign that continues to this day.

It is hard to overstate the vital role that the League’s wildlife sanctuaries have played over the 60 years since the purchase of Side & Slowley Woods. The sanctuaries have directly saved 100s of animals from the cruelty of hunting and their influence has been felt well beyond their physical boundaries. With a burgeoning pheasant and partridge shooting industry and all of the associated wildlife killing activities of gamekeepers in the area, plus the totally unjustifiable badger cull, the League Against Cruel Sports wildlife sanctuaries are now more important for our wildlife than they have ever been.

A male ring-necked pheasant in Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary

Our precious wildlife deserves the right to live without the fear of being hunted. Please donate today to support our 'Keep Out the Hunters' Appeal.

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Registered office: New Sparling House, Holloway Hill, Godalming, GU7 1QZ, United Kingdom.