Why we must end the cruel sport of stag hunting for good

Stag hunting on Exmoor and the Quantock Hills is over for another season, and the local red deer and human populations can have an all-too-short break before the cruel ‘sport’ begins again in August.

It is difficult to convey just how distressing it is to see a deer fleeing for its life in front of hounds and a bloodthirsty mob of people on horseback, quad bikes, motorbikes, even bicycles, and all manner of other vehicles.

The hounds are only doing what they have been trained to do, but the people - from babes-in-arms to grandparents - how can they be so lacking in compassion?

After 30 years of watching stag hunting, you might think that I would have become hardened to it, but as soon as I hear the blast from a hunting horn and the cry of the hounds, my stomach begins churning.

The human impact of hunting is something that is often overlooked, but one look at a village social media page following a visit from the staghounds and you will see tales of trespass, threats, gates broken, verges churned up, roads blocked, and pets and livestock missing or even killed.

The hunts say that they couldn’t continue without the consent of landowners, but the truth is landowners are often too intimidated to stop them, knowing full well that they will get little or no support from the police. When the staghound packs are around, it really does feel like you are in the wild west.

To make things worse, much of this is taking place within Exmoor National Park and the Quantock Hills National Landscape. These are areas that have been designated for their natural beauty and which are heavily subsidised from the public purse i.e. our taxes.

Fortunately, there are a few places where the stag hunts are banned, like Forestry England, National Trust and South West Lakes Trust land, although enforcement of these bans is, at best, patchy.

Then, of course, there are the League Against Cruel Sports' wildlife reserves and sporting rights land, where we are on guard whenever we are aware that the hunts are in the area. It can be devastating when the rabid rabble of hunt followers manage to turn the hunted stag away from one of the reserves, but occasionally a determined deer manages to break through the cordon of hunt supporters to safety.

This happened twice within the last few weeks of the stag hunting season, with both the Quantock Staghounds and the Devon & Somerset Staghounds losing the hunted deer to the League’s Baronsdown reserve. On both occasions, the desperate stag crossed a road lined with hunt followers before leaping over the boundary into the reserve, where he was able to rest and recover from his ordeal. It is tempting to suggest that the stag knew where he was safe.

For stag hunting to finally end for good, the Hunting Act 2004 needs strengthening to remove the exemptions the hunts are relying on, and the law needs enforcing. Those are two things that I will be asking my MP to deliver following the upcoming general election.

Paul Tillsley, Head of Conservation & Education

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Young stags on a wildlife reserve

Young stags on the League's Baronsdown wildlife reserve in spring

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