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DEER HUNTING: Has the British Deer Society landed a death blow?

Quietly, and without any fanfare, the British Deer Society (BDS), a charity ‘dedicated to building a strong future for wild deer in the UK’, has (belatedly, it could be strongly argued) published a Position Statement on Hunting Deer with Hounds.

In it the BDS states,The BDS is unable to justify the deliberate pursuit of healthy deer with hounds as an acceptable method of control…it is far more humane to stalk it quietly and cull it humanely with a rifle rather than to chase it with hounds and then shoot it when it is exhausted.

The ‘deliberate pursuit of healthy deer with hounds’ and the shooting of the animal when he or she is finally too exhausted to stand, is precisely how ‘deer hunting’ is practised by the country’s three remaining hunts. It has been described here on Protect the Wild by ‘The Secret Monitor‘ (who has inside knowledge of the hunts) as “perhaps the most abhorrent and depraved practice of the hunting community in the whole of the U.K.” It is not now – and has never been – acceptable.

Does the BDS statement matter?

A position statement from a charity many of us may not know much about might not seem an especially important move. But it is – in the words of a campaigner who has been involved with tackling deer hunting for many years – a potential game-changer.

This is because the BDS is seen as very much ‘part of the countryside’. Many hunt supporters have BDS stickers in their car, and the charity (fairly or unfairly) is considered to be a deer equivalent of BASC, lobbying on behalf of deer ‘managers’ (the algorithms at Twitter/ X certainly seem to think along those lines given the ‘follow suggestions’ in the recent screenshot posted below).

 

 

In fact, the BDS’ previously impartial stance on hunting has been relentlessly used by deer hunts like the Quantock Stag Hounds as justification for their appallingly cruel (and typically illegal) hunting. While the statement is not to be read as ‘anti-hunting policy’ (the BDS says it is about welfare and illegality), this carefully but unambiguously worded statement completely undermines that justification.

The statement also clearly refutes a claim made regularly by deer hunts and their supporters that hounds can somehow recognise Bovine Tb in deer.  The claim is designed to exploit Schedule 1.2(a) of the Hunting Act, through which the hunt can use two hounds to flush out a mammal that might cause “serious damage” to livestock. Bovine Tb is spread in bodily fluids like saliva and urine, which are routinely shed by hunted animals. While not commenting on the obvious dangers posed by chasing a sick, scared, panting animal across miles of countryside (or carving it up onthe hills afterwards),  the charity writes that, “The BDS has seen no evidence that hounds are able to detect or select diseased deer that appear healthy to experienced humans. No peer-reviewed scientific work has given any weight to this theory“.

Why now?

The BDS position statement was released in September, just after the start of yet another stag hunting ‘season’ in Somerset and Devon. There was no mention at the time on the charity’s social media feeds and many of us missed it. While that might appear a little mysterious, the bigger question is why make it now? In fact, why make it at all?

Protect the Wild contacted the British Deer Society to ask just that, and received a quick email response from Charles Smith-Jones, BDS Technical Adviser. He wrote that “it was clear that the British Deer Society, as the UK’s foremost deer charity with a particular interest in the welfare of wild deer, needed to declare a position on the matter” and suggested we call his office for further clarification. We did that and spoke with Mr Smith-Jones this morning (the 15th).

Perhaps wary about his words being taken out of context (Protect the Wild is after all proudly and staunchly against hunting, BDS is not), Mr Smith-Jones was not prepared to discuss deer hunting per se – and to be fair we expected that. He did answer several questions about the timing of the statement though, saying that the BDS had been considering the issues for a while, that the wording ‘had gelled‘ just prior to publication, that there was not ‘one major catalyst‘, and it ‘coincided‘ with inquiries the BDS was already making.

 

 

 

Which all sounds quite proactive, but, as Mr Smith-Jones himself pointed out during our conversation, the position statement refers to two reports that essentially state that Red Deer (the favoured quarry of the west country packs) ‘experience high levels of stress‘ when hunted and are physiologically unsuited to being chased for long periods as they don’t sweat. Those reports were published decades ago. The Burns Inquiry was used as evidence in writing the Hunting Act, and the even earlier 1998 Bateson Report led to the National Trust – another but much larger charity – banning deer hunting on their land almost immediately.

While we are grateful to the BDS for taking our call, we do have to say that if the position statement was based on welfare concerns as the BDS says, they’ve taken their time reacting! And it still doesn’t really explain why, after so many years of saying nothing about deer hunting, they have decided to speak out now.

 

It’s all about pressure

Here’s an alternative take. Protect the Wild is not going to put words into the mouth of Mr Smith-Jones, but he did offer up a hint as to why the BDS had felt compelled to act now. They simply couldn’t ignore the numerous conversations, reports, and exposures that have been increasingly all over the media.

Which is again perhaps a tad disingenuous because for a long while now it has been very clear that hunts like the Quantock Stag Hounds have been breaking the law and blowing any pretence of ‘deer welfare’ so far out of the water it has disappeared way over the horizon. We have known about the cruelty and the depravity because the former Somerset Wildlife Crime ploughed a somewhat lonely but consistent furrow years ago, tackling the hunts head-on and calling out their worst excesses. They along with other local monitors (and more recently sab groups) have set the stage for recent major media exposes by Wildlife Guardian and Channel Four and the Independent’s Jane Dalton.

 

Channel 4. “Hunters chase stag on quad bikes despite ban”. 26 Sept 2023

 

Both those exposes were published after the BDS slipped their statement online, nevertheless Mr Smith-Jones did say that the BDS had noted a ‘growing interest‘ in the issues around deer hunting. We might argue that as a charity solely focussed on deer the BDS could hardly have NOT noticed, but it’s clear they heard the room talking, and the room was saying, “You can not keep quiet about this level of lawbreaking and cruelty and still look credible”.

In other words – and this is startingly bad news for the hunts – deer hunting has at last become so toxic an issue that it simply can’t be passed over as if it wasn’t happening. Like the growing publicity facing law-breaking fox hunts, the arrogance and complacency of the deer hunts themselves has led to a building pressure that despite police inertia and the failings of landowning authorities like the group that runs the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty finally threatens to bring them crashing down.

A death blow?

The BDS are at pains to make clear that their position statement is “not an attack on hunting with hounds” and that they wish to be seen as an “impartial, informed, source“.

That very much echoes the RSPB’s increasingly untenable and unwise efforts to remain ‘neutral on gamebird shooting’ while literally millions of birds are killed every year for fun. The fact is that hunting deer with hounds is an appalling bloodsport, and whatever protestations the hunts may make about being invited to ‘manage’ deer by landowners, chasing deer until they collapse is not something to be impartial about. They may not be openly saying so, but the BDS have recognised that and moved on it.

While there has been no feedback from the hunts yet (according to Mr Smith-Jones) it has to be incredibly damaging. It may well be that the BDS are unaware (or affecting to be unaware) just how destructive their statement will be to hunting but the hunts have to be thinking that ‘one of their own’ has turned – and turned on evidence they couldn’t work around. It is palpable evidence of just how far the tide has turned. When even the British Deer Society can’t ignore the noise around deer hunting, it demonstrates just how loud that noise has become.

Whether the BDS position statement is a deathblow or not (and deer hunts are heavily embedded in the countryside and have tacit support from far too many police officers so perhaps not yet), it’s beyond debate now that activism, showing what the deer hunts are doing, and reaching as large an audience as possible has been effective and works. It has made it impossible to look the other way.

Protect the Wild freely acknowledges that we are ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ when it comes to stopping deer hunting. But we are absolutely determined to use our platform to help bring this disgusting ‘sport’ to an end as soon as possible.

So let’s all make as much noise as we can!

 

 

 

Protectors of the Wild Deer and the Law

 

For more information about the laws that should protect deer please see our Protectors of the Wild page ‘Deer and the Law’.

 

 

The first four posts by ‘The Secret Monitor’ expose the realities of deer hunts and their supporters. Please read