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Stay of execution for the Quantock staghunt

The Quantock Staghounds may be able to overcome the threat to the hunt's survival which a National Trust ban on their sport threatens. They are expected to approach a neighbouring staghunt to ask if they can use some of their terrain to hunt over.

Yesterday the Quantock Staghounds, which chases red deer on horseback with a pack of dogs, held what bloodsport opponents had hoped would be their last meet. The hunt relies heavily on using Trust land and this month the Trust's ruling council decided not to renew its licence when it expires at the end of April.

But the neighbouring Devon and Somerset Staghounds, which will suffer less from the Trust's decision to ban staghunting on its property, said it would consider any request from the Quantock to use some of its traditional hunting grounds sympathetically. ''I'm sure that will be discussed, although there's been no approach as yet,'' said Tom Yandle, joint master of the Devon and Somerset. ''We would help them if we could.''

Stag hunting on the Quantock Hills in Somerset has a 500-year history, although the Quantock Staghounds is only 90 years old. By tradition the hunting season for red deer closes at the end of April and reopens in early autumn.

Before the Quantock huntsmen and their hounds rode yesterday from the village of West Bagborough to a chorus of cheering supporters, hunt master Bill Fewings said: ''It is very, very sad. It is heartbreaking.'' The Trust had still not spoken to the hunt about its decision, he added.

All four deerhunts in Britain - three in the West Country, one in the New Forest - use some National Trust land but the Quantock is by far the worst affected.

Its "country" covers a relatively small area, and much of the best hunting land, 1,037 acres, is in Trust ownership.