The National Trust's ruling council voted unanimously yesterday to ban stag hunting on its land after a scientific report it had commissioned concluded that the chase caused extreme suffering and exhaustion to their deer.
But two of Britain's four staghound hunts both went hunting yesterday although one of them, the Quantock, said the Trust's decision meant it was doomed.
The Trust has sent a copy of its report to the Government. Its 52-member council, which held a special meeting at its London headquarters yesterday, is asking the Government to set up an expert committee to reappraise the suffering caused by other kinds of hunting in the light of its findings.
Charles Nunneley, the Trust's chairman, said: "The council decided to make sure that whatever further measures are necessary to preserve the red deer herd in good condition by culling and deer management are carried out."
Mr Nunneley also said the two-year research project had meant that a decision could be based on "scientific fact not emotion". He added that a further study would be required before the ban could be extended to fox hunting.
However, Kevin Saunders, of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "We believe this is a very big nail in the coffin of hunting." And Peter Davies, director general of the RSPCA, said: "We are delighted with the decision."
In the study, the Cambridge University animal behaviour expert Professor Derek Bateson concluded that to continue hunting the deer on horseback with hounds would be cruel.
The average hunt of 12 miles, lasting three hours, which ended with the deer held at bay by hounds and shot, left the animal exhausted, with very high levels of hormones related to stress and pain and with damaged muscles and blood cells. Its physiological state was the same as a deer which had suffered catastrophic injuries in a road accident.
There are at least 2,500 red deer in the West Country, mostly on Exmoor and in the Quantock Hills, and their numbers have to be controlled, otherwise they would destroy their habitat.
The Trust will not renew the licences for the three West Country Staghounds when they expire at the end of this month. The licence for the New Forest Buckhounds, which chase fallow deer, expired earlier this month.
Denys White, spokesman for the Quantock Staghounds, said the Trust owned four areas of land in its Somerset hunting range. Some 30 riders, mostly local landowners, came to yesterday's scheduled meet. "The mood was sombre," he said.
A spokesman for The British Field Sports Society said the Society would now try to find if there were any reputable experts in animal behaviour and physiology who would question the findings of intense suffering in the hunted deer.
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