Farmer who is glad to see the last of the hunt

Not all country people support blood sports

Thirty-One years ago Janet White was in her garden when her scarlet- coated neighbour rode up to her house, raised his hat, and held out a bloody hunk of venison. He was doing no more than hunting custom demanded, offering the heart of the deer to the owner of the land on which it had been killed.

He might as well have handed the heart of the lioness Elsa to Joy Adamson in Born Free. Although Mrs White was the epitome of politeness - she told him her family didn't like meat - she later wrote in her autobiography about the red deer "sitting under the trees in the woods, peacefully chewing the cud and watching me ... it was a privilege to have them living where we could watch their natural behaviour".

Last week, Mrs White was "quietly jubilant" about another hunting gesture, this time by the National Trust, when it announced it would ban deer hunting on its land from the end of this season after a study it commissioned revealed "unambiguous" evidence that hunting caused deer "extreme stress" and "great suffering".

The decision will affect all four English deer hunts, but none more so than the Quantock Staghounds in Somerset who hunt almost exclusively on Trust land, much of it around Mrs White's 250-acre sheep farm on the Quantock Hills.

Mrs White runs her farm with wildlife conservation in mind and has long excluded the hunt, which has not made her popular with some of her neighbours. She is determined not to sound triumphant. She is aware hunting doesn't turn a neighbour into a barbarian.

Nonetheless it's difficult for this 67-year-old farmer (or shepherd, as she prefers to be known) to conceal her relief at the Trust's decision. She now knows she will never again have to watch a deer salivating at the mouth as it tries to get away from a pack of hounds baying their way down the hill past her farmhouse.

Now the 90-year-old Quantock Staghounds concede they will probably have to fold. "The last thing I want to do is crow over their defeat," Mrs White said. "People who enjoy hunting as a sport will be extremely upset, and I can understand that. However, I'm delighted for the sake of the deer."

Mrs White's opposition to hunting is based on her conviction the sport is cruel. She knows deer numbers need to be controlled - more than 100 local deer are culled each year, compared with fewer than 40 as a result of hunting - and she is the first to point out the damage the deer do to her banks and trees.

She chose to keep hunting off her land, but not everyone respected this. "There have been incidents over the years that have made me very angry," she said. She recalled seeing a stag killed on her land and receiving an apology from the Master. As part of the apology, she was given its antlers mounted on a board with an inscription saying where it was killed. She smiles as she looks at it - already a relic, she hopes, of a bygone age.

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