Borwn hare in long grass

Hunt monitors are urgently calling for people to oppose the Ilminster Beagle Festival

The Ilminster Beagle Festival is well underway in south Somerset. The secret event is well-guarded by organisers, and is rarely seen by the public because of its remote location. Hunt monitors are calling for people to oppose the last few days of the meet, which runs until Sunday 12 March.

Beagling is the cruel sport of hunting hares in open fields, where hunters are on foot, rather than on horseback. A hare is much faster than the beagle pack that chases her, but she is driven to exhaustion as she tries to get away. The hounds will then kill her when she is on the brink of collapse. A hunt monitor, who has been on the ground, trying to stop any kills at the ‘festival’, talked to Protect The Wild about hare hunting. He said:

“Unlike foxes, hares spend their lives above ground, so do not seek refuge underground when being hunted. Hares are reluctant to leave their territory not venturing onto unknown ground – the result, hare hunting normally takes place in a small area, of no more than one or two square miles. A hunted hare will run in circles within its territory when pursued by hounds, where after a chase of up to an hour, the exhausted hare is overwhelmed by the lead hounds and torn to pieces.”

He continued:

“Just like in deer and fox hunting, trophies will be taken from the animal’s body; If there is anything left, the huntsman sometimes cuts of the head (mask) and tail (scut) of the hare.”

The monitor explained how young hares are at their most vulnerable right now. He said:

“Hare hunting takes place between late August/early September until March, with leverets being born between February and September. Leverets are born, and stay above ground, vulnerable not only to hounds but also will not survive the loss of the female reluctant to leave her young.”

The ‘festival’

The Ilminster Beagle Festival began on Monday 6 March. It’s been organised by the Ilminster Beagles, which has invited other packs from across the country to hunt. The hunt monitor told Protect The Wild:

“The ‘festival’ opened with a gathering of approximately a dozen vehicles parked at the meet and around 30 foot followers at Ullcombe farm in Upottery. After a nerve-wracking wait, the Britannia Beagles left the meet slightly late at around 12:20. The beagles, a much smaller dog than the fox hound, were cast across the field and with their noses set to the ground the hunt began.

Hunt monitors were equipped with a drone to keep tabs on the pack. The monitor continued:

“Unfortunately for them it was a brief encounter as it was around this time the supporters became aware that they were not alone and their activities were being observed by monitors who had a fantastic view.”

On the second day, hunt saboteurs from across the south-west descended upon the ‘festival’ in a hamlet called Barington, ensuring that no hares were murdered. No hares were killed on the third day, either, after the visiting pack didn’t show up. The monitor said:

“The festival is set to continue today [Thursday] from the home of the Cotley Harriers, Bewley Down in Chard. That’s assuming the RAC Beagles don’t get stage fright and stay home.”

Join people on the ground

The ‘festival’ will continue for three more days, and hunt monitors are keen for more people to attend, to try to stop the packs from making kills. The hunt monitor said:

“Friday the Purbeck and Bovington are hunting hare over at Curry Rivel. No doubt this will prove to be an event where no cruelty will be spared. Hare are quick to tire and given their unique habits when pursued, survival is highly unlikely. Saturday will be the Ilminster and West Somerset Beagle packs’ day to hunt hare at Aller in Langport. The week’s festivities coming to close with none other than Tizzard’s Basset pack at Beercrocombe.”

Tizzard’s Basset pack is owned by racehorce trainer Colin Tizzard. North Dorset Hunt Saboteurs said of the pack:

“We found that racehorse trainer Colin Tizzard has bought the Huckworthy Bassetts back after closing down decades ago. This pirate pack were observed several times in and around Sherborne, Milborne Port and Dorchester. They were caught hunting hares on Sundays. something which is illegal not only under the Hunting Act, but also under the Game Act.”

If you want to prevent the brutal killing of hares this week by Tizzard’s beagles and others, you are welcome join people on the ground in Somerset.

If you want to join monitors to stop the ‘festival’, you can contact South West Animal Rights Movement on Facebook.