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Stag hunt banned from council land: Hounds' future in jeopardy after vote

THE FUTURE of the Quantock Staghounds, one of Britain's best-known hunts, hangs in the balance after Somerset council voted to ban them from some of its land.

Councillors voted 28 to 22 to end stag-hunting with hounds on a strategic 140-acre area in the Quantock Hills. After a 90- minute debate, they decided to set up a sanctuary on Over Stowey Customs Common.

A spokesman for the council, now controlled by the Liberal Democrats, said: 'We are not banning hunting per se. The vote was about hunting on council property. Our message is, 'you do what you want to do in your garden, we will do what we want in ours'.'

He said the decision would make hunting difficult but would not force the hunters to stop. 'There are thousands of acres of land left. I have heard hunt people argue that the ruling does not make a blind bit of difference.'

A spokesman for the Quantock Staghounds said the decision could 'seriously jeopardise' the future of the hunt. 'Although it is a small piece of land, its shape and situation mean it is critical.'

At present, 7,000 red deer roam the hills of Exmoor and the Quantocks. About 1,000 of these were killed last year. Hunts killed 130, stalkers culled between 500 and 700, and poachers took the rest.

There is universal agreement among hunts and animal welfare groups that deer numbers need to be controlled to prevent over- population. The debate is over the method of killing. Welfare groups say it should be done by marksmen with rifles.

The League Against Cruel Sports launched a pounds 160,000 newspaper and poster campaign yesterday to protest against the annual cull of 6,000 fox cubs.