West Somerset Vale Hunt meet – Park Farm, Nether Stowey. Quantock Hills
Together with a welcome visit of sabs from Devon County Hunt Saboteurs, we spent a very long day with the West Somerset Vale Hunt. It may well have also been retiring Hunt Master Mike Weir’s last outing too and thus his last chance to chase and kill foxes on the Quantock Hills. We know that’s what they were doing because during the course of the day many a remark was made by followers that they had thus far been unable to do so!
A great deal of land was covered between 11.30 and 5ish by the hunt. After leaving the meet at Park Farm with a fairly large field of well over 30 riders, they headed towards Great Bear and then from there it seemed not a combe or hill was missed in the parishes of Holford and Over Stowey. Both foot teams stayed with them from Bincombe, to Dowsborough, Frog Hill, Crowcombe Park Gate, Dead Womans Ditch, Ramscombe, Great Wood and the National Trust’s Marrow Hil (again)l! As we only have one pair of legs each they did keep getting away from us, but they were nearly always within earshot when not in view with one foot team or the other. Hounds could be heard speaking or in cry several times when hidden in the steep sided valleys. The last time this happened they were in the vicinity of Marrow Hill where sabs quickly caught up with them to find riders and hounds and three quads tooled up ready to fix fences…clever little terriers aren’t they. All the while, the quads and riders were merrily riding all over the National Trust land which they had previously been told off for being on with their vehicles!
As they day wore on riders started to disperse, a few being so polite we wondered why they associated themselves with a hunt known to deliberately carry on outside of the law. At the same time the patience of some followers was wearing thin as they were desperate to clock up a kill. One foot team discovered this when they caught followers and terriermen near a blocked badger sett at Quantock Farm and they were all standing along a section of footpath clearly ready to block a fox’s escape. You can read more details of the sabs’ ordeal having their equipment trashed and sabs assaulted in the Devon County Hunt Sab’s report. This is now in the hands of the Avon and Somerset Police who we hope will treat this crime in a more appropriate manner than their Devon and Cornwall counterparts seem to. We also hope the WPC has learned to tell the difference between fact and fiction because as one of the first on the scene and hearing about the assaults and damage, she immediately assumed the victims were hunt followers whom sabs had attacked. Five police cars arrived within half an hour which meant that sabs were able to identify some of the attackers before they had dispersed.
Whilst for sabs this unprovoked attack had been the toughest part of the day, it was not the only example of aggression and cruelty which often goes hand in hand with illegal hunting. We also had the usual vehicle blocking tactics and verbal abuse and were reminded that the animals involved in hunting also suffer at the hand of those that undertake and support such activities.
We feel we must award the female rider in the bright blue jacket worst horsewoman of the season. The uphill galloping on a road we have sadly often seen but the terrible fitting of the saddle was something else. Not being experts we have shown the footage to someone who rides and they were absolutely horrified and felt the slipping saddle at the very least would have likely caused bloody sores to the back and underbelly of the poor horse. Later in the afternoon something grim was clearly unfolding as several riders were seen on foot walking their horses/ponies and others were hastily contacting Evolution Farm Vets. When our support vehicle arrived at the scene in Great Wood, the way was blocked by two riders. Shortly after a gunshot was heard. We can only assume some poor animal, most likely a horse, met their end and sabs on the ground were understandably reluctant to go closer not wishing in any way to add to the distress of the animal.
Many members of the hunt and its followers weren’t too bothered by such a tragedy as they continued to hunt on for a couple more hours afterwards. Many hounds appeared to be a bit on the thin side and one of them had large growths hanging from her belly, Horrible to think what could happen if these got caught on any bramble or barbed wire fences as this hunt really is a bit irresponsible with their “trail laying”.
At least one hound was still abandoned on the hill long after the hunt had packed up and gone back to the kennels several miles away. Sabs stayed with the hound and did their best to catch him and wait for someone to return and retrieve him. Sadly he was just too fearful of people for us to gain his trust, which isn’t surprising considering we recently heard the master threatening to skin a hound who wasn’t behaving.
It was a very long day for sabs and for the animals and we hope no foxes died but we cannot be absolutely certain of this. However, we are certain that we did all we could to prevent any being killed. The hunt barely stopped moving all day and followers were extremely fed up with us. The violence today was a new twist in our experience of this hunt but we will not be deterred.
If you support our efforts to prevent the killing of our wildlife please consider buying us a Ko-fi to help maintain and fuel our vehicle. We are always happy to hear from you if you wish to support us in other ways such as passing on information about illegal hunts or coming out and joining us!
As the season draws to a close, we continue sett-surveying in preparation of the badger cull which will start again in September.