Monitoring the hunts

I found the Quantock Staghounds early in the morning of Thursday 20 August on their first meet of the season. A mature stag they were hunting ran into Forestry Commission-owned woodland close to Triscombe. I think they hoped they would not be seen trespassing in the forest, but they were seen and reported with the stag escaping on this occasion.

Since then, the Quantock Staghounds have continued to hunt twice a week, however not holding meets in the traditional sense but rather centring on a place where they are told their huntsman will be passing by, while the riders operate in ‘bubbles’ of six. 

Sadly, a few mature stags have been killed by this hunt to date this season, though happily some have escaped to National Trust land and also the League’s own sanctuary land.

The hunt sometimes claims to be trail hunting, but a stag always seems to become the ‘trail’. The other morning, I was covertly monitoring the hunt and was so close that I heard the huntsman exclaim on his radio that “the ‘trails’ were going up over Black Hill”, just as he watched two stags run up and over Black Hill. So are the trails real trails, or are they in fact code words for the stag? The hunt may also claim that the hunted stag somehow is an injured stag and so what a kind and merciful job they are doing in ending its suffering.

The sad reality is that it is the hunt themselves that injure the stags, forcing them into a terrible state of exhaustion. Also, with the land crossed with so much barbed wire injuries are commonplace. One hunted stag was seen recently near Nether Stowey, in Somerset, bleeding heavily from the head. A short while later it took refuge in a private garden but the hounds again forced it to move on. The homeowner was allegedly told by the hunt that the stag had been hit by a car and that they were trespassing to try and put him out his misery.

It wasn’t long before the much bigger Devon and Somerset Staghounds also started to meet, and on Thursday 10 September, League investigators found them at their first meet up at Landacre Bridge on Exmoor.

Like the Quantock style meets, riders and supporters were more spread out with a meet around the huntsman and hounds not occurring. We saw around 50 riders and 150 or more hunt supporters showing no consideration for the other park users or Covid-19 rules, with no social distancing in place. The fact that the hunt had hand gel dispensers on the back of the Land Rovers carrying hounds and had brought a mobile sink for handwashing really didn’t make it any better. We called the police on 101 but although they were on the way it was already too late for one stag they killed. 

On Monday 14 September, I managed to get film of the stag that the Quantock Staghounds were hunting on one of the hottest days of the year. Although visibly exhausted, we strongly believe he escaped onto our New Ground sanctuary land.

On Tuesday 15 September the Devon and Somerset Staghounds met in the Hele Bridge area close to the League’s Baronsdown sanctuary, yet again ignoring the now-stronger Covid-19 laws. A very big stag was hunted and was lucky to survive as the hunt came to an abrupt end when the huntsman Peter Heard suffered as broken pelvis after being unseated by his exhausted horse close to the village of Morebath in Devon. 

It's clear to see the pandemic has not stopped the stag hunters from chasing their prey, and it’s not surprising they are breaking those rules just as much as they’re breaking hunting laws.

But where they go the League goes, and we will continue to monitor them until they stop chasing and killing animals for ‘sport’.

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