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Ilminster Beagles filmed illegally hunting a hare by Hounds Off

GOOD NEWS: Two Somerset beagle packs to merge

The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) have reported that two Somerset beagle packs are merging. And it says it’s another sign that the pastime is in “terminal decline”.

On 24 April, the HSA said that the Ilminster Beagles and West Somerset Beagles will merge for the 2023/23 season. The new pack will take the name Ilminster & West Somerset Beagles and will remain at the Taunton Vale Hunt kennels, where the Ilminster Beagles are currently based.

Beagling is hare hunting with hounds on foot. While visually distinct from foxhound and harrier packs, they are essentially similar in how they operate, and are an integral part of the wider hunting industry.

The Ilminster Beagles organised the week-long Ilminster Hare Festival, which was twice disrupted by hunt saboteurs. First in 2019, when the HSA said more than 50 sabs stopped the event on its first day. Groups continued to disrupt the event throughout the week. Second in 2023, when sabs shut down the event’s second day.

Hounds Off also filmed the Ilminster Beagles hunting hares twice: once in 2018, and once in 2020. However, as the group explained, the footage was never acted on by police likely because it didn’t meet the high bar for Hunting Act prosecutions.

When two beagle packs become one

The merger of the two Somerset beagle packs is far from unique. In January, Protect the Wild reported on the folding of the Airedale Beagles. And in September 2022, the Blean Beagles merged with the Brighton, Storrington, Surrey and North Sussex Beagles to form the Downland Beagles. Previously, in 2020, the HSA said the Palmer Marlborough Beagles amalgamated with the Clinkard Meon Valley Beagles.

There are roughly 60 beagle packs left in the UK. However, it appears the community is beginning to crumble as packs fold and merge with increasing rapidity. As a result, the HSA described beagling as in “terminal decline”.

While this is broadly good news, one creature that may suffer from this trend is the beagle. When packs shut down or merge, the hunt is unlikely to simply retire or rehome the hounds. While it will ‘draft’ – or send – some to other packs, the hunt will probably shoot many of the beagles.

Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that hunts choose to do this. They don’t have to kill the creatures, but opt to do so in another display of their callous attitude towards all animals. And they are likely to kill hounds season after season anyway. So the end of each pack can’t come soon enough – not just for wildlife, but for the hounds as well.

Featured image via The hills have eyes/Vimeo