Police are to investigate video footage allegedly showing "barbaric" and "inhumane" treatment of a stag by huntsmen on National Trust land.
The incident, captured on camera by animal rights campaigners, shows the creature being chased for more than two hours by dogs and a rider, who is seen cracking his whip at the animal which is clearly frightened and exhausted.
The League Against Cruel Sports alleges the Devon and Somerset Staghounds acted illegally in chasing the stag, which was eventually shot, over a long distance at Dunkery Beacon in Somerset on 14 August. It also says these "barbaric" actions show the hunt is not fit to dispatch stags and was contravening National Trust guidelines. These allow a hunt on to Trust land only to dispatch stags which are sick or injured, and state categorically that animals must not be chased.
The hunt denies any wrongdoing and says its members were culling the stag, which it says was old, in accordance with hunting laws.
However, the allegations made by the league are deeply embarrassing for the National Trust which caused uproar earlier this year when it announced it planned to reverse a long-standing ban on hunts on all of its estates. The decision was taken to allow the culling of stags on its land. The trust said this could be an effective and humane way of dealing with deer on its property in the Quantock Hills and Exmoor.
The pro-hunting lobby argues that hunting with hounds is the most humane way of managing deer and foxes, but welfare activists say it legitimises hunting as a sport. The league said that it believed that the Devon and Somerset Staghounds was using dogs to chase the stag. The law states that the hunt is only allowed to use two dogs to flush out animals.
"These pictures show the shocking truth about how the people chosen by the trust to kill ani- mals behave," said a spokesman. "It's like allowing paedophiles to help out with a mother and toddler group. This animal was exhausted, terrified and tormented. This was the pursuit of a deer for fun. It was not a cull, it was slaughter. It was barbaric and inhumane."
The Devon and Somerset Staghounds refuted the league's claims and said it was acting within the law, had permission to be on the land and said the stag was one "suitable for culling" because it was old.
Tom Yandle, chairman of the hunt, said that the horseman had cracked the whip near the animal to turn it back towards the waiting guns. He added that the new restrictions on hunting brought in by the Government were partly to blame for how animals are killed.
"I don't think the Hunting Act produces humanity," said Mr Yandle. "It would be much better for the animals if the Act had not happened but I don't see how chasing the deer and riding alongside it and cracking a whip is any more inhumane than any other form of moving a deer around."
The trust confirmed it had been called to an incident on 14 August. It said it had no power to ban the hunt from this part of Dunkery Beacon and had no control over its activities because the trust did not hold the hunting rights.
However, anyone who controls or manages land where hunting takes place has a responsibility under the Act.Reuse content