Quantock stag Red provokes war of words between staghounds and League Against Cruel Sports
Meet Red, the big Quantock stag who – like the late, lamented Exmoor Emperor – is either a new folk hero in the making or just another wild red deer who will one day succumb to the traditional form of wildlife management administered by the local staghounds.
Red has become a celebrity in the Somerset hills since the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) mounted an internet campaign to save him from the attentions of a local hunt.
Members of the Quantock Staghounds, however, say they never had any intentions of targeting Red and that he's safe as far as the hunt is concerned – for the best part of a year, at least – because they finished autumn stag-hunting on Thursday.
As is always the case with hunting stories, it is a matter of never the twain shall meet. On the one hand, the LACS claims the hunt will do anything to kill a big and impressive stag, which they should not be doing because the number of wild red males living on the Quantocks is at an all-time low.
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On the other hand, the chairman of the staghounds says that – far from wanting to kill Red – he has been watching the stag feed on his own farm's wheat crop for the past three years.
Red came to prominence recently when the LACS set up a special internet diary designed to allow people around the world to follow the animal's fate during the autumn stag-hunting season, and various national newspapers reported on this novel new campaign.
The second entry is typical of the diary's content… "The Quantock Staghounds are in the area today as they continue with their determination to hunt the last remaining stags in the Quantock Hills. League investigators are out on the ground keeping a close eye on Red and monitoring the situation as we know hunt supporters were heard saying that if they couldn't find a stag to hunt on the hills, they would come after him."
But Nick Gibbons, chairman of the staghounds, seemed unimpressed by the media fuss when he spoke to the Western Daily Press: "We finished autumn stag hunting on Thursday – and far from 'trophy hunting', which is what some people would like to think we do – you should have seen the stag we accounted for… He was old and in poor condition."
One of the claims stag-hunts make is that they control deer numbers by taking out older stags which would otherwise reach an age when they were breeding with their own female offspring.
LACS head of campaigns Rebecca Taylor said: "We started monitoring Red – one of the nine estimated adult red deer stags left on the Quantocks – fearing he could be the next victim of the staghounds after hunt supporters were heard saying that if they couldn't find a stag to hunt on the hills, they would come after him.
"Our fears were proven to be well founded. Throughout the season there were attempts made by the Quantock Staghounds to scare Red from the safety of League-owned sanctuary land.
"Hunt supporters pulled up beside our land and used the types of shouts commonly heard during a stag hunt, to scare him and get him to run off the sanctuary. On another occasion an out-of-control hunt hound trespassed onto our land, scattering Red and the other deer present.
"We utterly condemn the Quantock Staghounds for continuing their crusade in chasing and killing these beautiful wild animals, even in spite of the desperately low population figures."
Mr Gibbons refuted any such allegations, saying he cared for the wild deer so much that he allowed stags to feed on his crops.