Jonny Rogers reports on a recent regulation-breaking and ethically-controversial hunting excursion in Somerset.
Photo by Philip Swinburn
130 people gathered for a stag hunt in Somerset in September, including 30 on horseback and 100 followers in cars and quad bikes. They were funded by a £10,000 grant and £50,000 loan designed to support struggling businesses throughout the coronavirus pandemic..
This gathering has sparked intense criticism regarding both the government’s use of the taxpayer’s money and their failure to condemn the hunters’ defiance of social-distancing regulations.
As a witness to the gathering reports: “It makes a mockery of the sacrifices people are making around the country to limit gatherings and stop the spread of the disease.”
In addition, the League Against Cruel Sports (L.A.C.S.) – an organisation established in 1924 to prevent animal cruelty in hunting practices – hopes that this exposure will convince the public that stag hunting ought to be outlawed.
Hunting in Britain
In 2004, The Hunting Act was established to prevent the chasing of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales, a practice used in the hunting of fox, deer, hare and mink. However, two dogs are permitted to hunt wild animals for ‘observation and study’. Scotland had previously banned similar practices in 2002 with the Protection of Wild Mammals Act.
However, the L.A.C.S. believes that hunters have been defying these legal restrictions. They claim that the practice of ‘trail hunting’ became popular following The Hunting Act, as hunters could claim that the death of wildlife is merely an ‘accident’ caused by an uncontrolled hound following live animal scents.
In recent years, the National Trust has been put under pressure to ban trail hunting, as many believe that the practice is simply a smokescreen for illegal hunting practices. Nevertheless, the National Trust have insisted that trail hunting does not (intentionally) result in any animal being chased, injured or killed.
The Devon and Somerset Staghounds (D.S.S.H.), who were responsible for September’s restriction-defying gathering, claim that they are instrumental in monitoring the health and size of the deer population in Exmoor National Park. Their hunting practices, being ‘totally democratic’ in their constitution, are allegedly supported by farmers and landowners.
Hunting and Covid-19
The D.S.S.H. were able to apply for the government’s ‘Bounce Back’ scheme as the earlier lockdown restrictions had prevented many fund-raising activities, including point-to-point horseracing. However, it is believed that the club already has £40,000 amassed in bank accounts, at the same time as many shops are being forced to close.
Nevertheless, following September’s mass gathering, footage has emerged of the hunters chasing and whipping a stag, before reportedly shooting it. Another witness reports that hounds were used in the hunt, as seemingly confirmed by a video featuring dogs killing a fox.
“The blatant cruelty of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds’ riders and supporters will shock and horrify the vast majority of the British public. This barbaric practice must be outlawed for good.” - Andy Knott, the chief executive of the L.A.C.S
Earlier this month, the British government announced that grouse hunting and hunting with guns were exempt from the ‘rule of six’ regulations, though these gatherings were still limited to 30 people. While individuals breaking the rules might be fined up to £3,200, the facilitators of large events could be fined up to £10,000.
Nevertheless, even if the D.S.S.H. were given restrictions or penalties, they are only the largest of three hunts operating in the area. Hunting in Britain will continue for as long as it remains unregulated, not least if it is supported by taxpayers’ money.
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