Why the League has animal sanctuaries

A majestic stag stands tall against a backdrop of wildflower meadows, as the sun sets behind a woodland of towering oak trees. Half a dozen hinds graze peacefully, knowing that the sentinel is on guard.

This could be a scene from anywhere in the UK, but in the south west of England the stag would be right to keep a vigilant watch – deer hunts and their packs of hounds pose a constant threat. However, there are places where he is safe – The League Against Cruel Sports wildlife sanctuaries.

The League owns around 550 acres of land in Somerset and Devon, which is maintained as wildlife sanctuaries where animals can live free from persecution. We are very proud of these areas, as we believe they represent the British countryside as it should be.

The League began purchasing land in the 1950s to create a barrier to the numerous hunts, particularly the stag hunts, operating in Exmoor and Quantock Hills area. Sadly, despite the Hunting Act (2004), the hunts have continued to chase and kill wild animals and so the League’s wildlife sanctuaries still have a vital role to fulfil.

Pheasant chicks in Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary

Baronsdown Wildlife Sanctuary

Exmoor is well known for being a hunting and shooting hot-spot. However, near to Dulverton, one of the main hunting and shooting centres, there is a tranquil oasis – the League’s Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary.

Although it is perhaps not the most famous facet of our work, the League owns a number of wildlife sanctuaries in and around Exmoor and the Quantock Hills. Together with Baronsdown, Cowley Wood, Reapham Wood, St Johns Wood, New Ground, Cove Down and Peep Out all provide safe places for wildlife in strategically important places.

In addition, the League owns about 2,000 acres of hunting and shooting rights around Exmoor and elsewhere that prevent hunting and shooting from taking place in those areas. Together, the League’s wildlife sanctuaries are vital in the fight to protect wildlife from the persecution it faces from hunters and gamekeepers. Of the League’s wildlife sanctuaries, Baronsdown is the jewel in the crown.

If you were to look at Baronsdown on a map, its importance becomes immediately apparent. On all points of the compass the League’s sanctuary is surrounded by shooting estates. People pay large sums of money, up to £5,000 per day, to take pot shots at some of the thousands of high flying pheasants that are dumped out in the local countryside each year. The League’s wildlife sanctuary at the heart of it all is a vital haven. Gamekeepers don’t tolerate anything that gets in the way of their pheasant shooting, be it deer, foxes, badgers, otters or birds of prey. The League Against Cruel Sports Baronsdown sanctuary is the one safe place they’ve got in the area, which is why we get such a variety of wildlife – they really have nowhere else to go.

Deer in Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary

The wildlife of Baronsdown sanctuary

Baronsdown is one of the few places where you are almost guaranteed to see Britain’s largest land mammal, wild Red Deer. Badgers and foxes breed there and otters pass through as they make their way along the River Exe. You may see rabbits and squirrels, and if you are really lucky you might see stoats, weasels or maybe a polecat.

Hazel Dormice are present and are doing rather well, despite a general decline in numbers. Fallow Deer and Roe Deer sometimes call in and even wild boar have made an appearance. You could see buzzards wheeling overhead, or a Peregrine or Sparrowhawk flitting by.

In summer, Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts, Wood Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers and a host of other birds nest on the sanctuary. On a sunny day, a bountiful bonanza of British butterflies is likely to be on the wing, supplemented by migrants from mainland Europe. Careful management of the land on all of the League’s wildlife sanctuaries, including minimal use of chemicals, means that a wide range of animals and plants flourish. We’re proud to be practising good animal conservation.

Small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly

Sanctuary under attack

Whilst the League’s wildlife sanctuaries are popular with the local wildlife, the same can’t be said of the local hunters and shooters. Perhaps it is mere coincidence that ‘Private Property’ and ‘Keep Out’ signs that once adorned the sanctuaries’ perimeters have been peppered with holes from a shotgun blast or two.

A message? It’s one we take to heart. A couple of these signs are kept in our office, along with the remnants of a sign that fell victim to an arson attack, as a reminder of the importance of our work and the necessity of these protected lands.

Private property signs with gunshots | League Against Cruel Sports

Become a member and visit Baronsdown Sanctuary

The League’s wildlife sanctuaries are not open to the general public, so the wildlife can live largely undisturbed. However, League members can visit the League’s Baronsdown sanctuary on one of the specially arranged weekends that are scheduled throughout the year.

Visits from schools, colleges or other groups can also be arranged by contacting the League on 01483 524 250 or [email protected].

Doormouse sleeping in Baronsdown animal sanctuary

How can I help you protect the League's wildlife sanctuaries?