Defying a Centuries-Old Tradition, Britain Sees Its First Hunting Ban

Article excerpt

Animal-lovers who have campaigned to get blood sports outlawed in Britain are claiming a significant victory. The National Trust, which administers huge tracts of land in Britain, has decided to ban the ancient sport of stag hunting with hounds on its property.

But although Kevin Saunders, spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, says he is "over the moon" at the trust's decision, the British Field Sports Society, which favors the hunting of game with horses and packs of dogs, is vowing to fight it.

'Hunt saboteurs' on the move For the past two decades in many parts of Britain, groups of self-styled "hunt saboteurs" have been campaigning against blood-sport enthusiasts who deck themselves out in traditional riding gear, mount horses, marshal teams of specially bred hounds, and pursue deer and foxes through country areas. There have been many violent confrontations as the saboteurs placed themselves in the path of the stag-hunting and fox-hunting groups and tried to halt the chase. Sometimes they succeeded. At other times, the hunters broke clear. Stag-hunters were then able to chase deer for up to 12 miles across the countryside. When the deer collapsed from exhaustion, the dogs closed in, and one of the hunters dispatched it with a rifle. Charles Nunneley, the trust's chairman, says his organization became "increasingly angered and frustrated by these confrontations." He decided to test the saboteurs' claim that stag hunting causes deer great suffering. The trust invited Derek Bateson, an animal behavior expert at Cambridge University, to conduct a two-year study. Mr. Bateson's report, released last week, concludes that stag hunting is "unnatural and cruel," causing physiological harm to the animal even before the dogs catch up with it. The report asserts: "The results are utterly unambiguous." Bateson says deer are essentially "sedentary animals" and that if they have to be culled in areas of overpopulation, the humane method is to stalk them on foot with rifles. The National Trust's 52-strong governing council has unanimously supported Bateson's report. …