The Secret Monitor

The Secret Monitor: the depraved ‘supporters’ of the Quantock Stag Hounds

Damaging stories from inside hunting, shooting, and the badger cull have been circulating for years, and there are always new ones waiting to be told. There is always someone watching, always someone listening. The Secret Monitor.

In the second post of an occasional series, the Secret Monitor is in the west of England.

Stag hunting has a long and bloody history. Confined to the west country now, it is perhaps the most abhorrent and depraved practice of the hunting community in the whole of the U.K. Even within hunting circles it has long been referred to as ‘a blood sport too far’. Pro-hunt individuals confess that it is the hunting communities’ Achilles heel. Imagine just how bad stag hunting has to be for even die-hard bloodsport enthusiasts to squirm when they think about it…



The Quantock Hills – an AONB and SSSI

The Quantock Hills west of Bridgewater consist of heathland, oak woodlands, ancient parklands and agricultural land. Features include Bronze age round barrows, extensive ancient field systems, and Iron Age hill forts. In 1956 they were legally designated England’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – which means “that its distinctive character, natural beauty and cultural heritage are so outstanding that it is in the nation’s interest to safeguard them”.

The Hills run from the Vale of Taunton Deane in the south for about 15 miles to the north-west, ending at Kilve and West Quantoxhead on the coast of the Bristol Channel. In 1970 an area of 6,194.5 acres was designated as a Biological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). SSSIs are legally protected under Section 28 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and the Quantocks SSSI heathland is cited as one of the most extensive areas of semi-natural habitat in South West England.

All that protection and legislation, yet the Quantock Stag Hounds hunt here twice a week. On Mondays they hunt on the main hills, and on Thursdays they hunt off the hills, in areas allocated to them by the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds. The decision to hunt off the hills on a Thursday wasn’t some sort of selfless action for the health of the stags by the way – it was made solely to ensure an ongoing supply of good stags to hunt following the Bateson Report and both the Forestry Commission and the National Trust banning the stag hunts from their land in 1997.

It has been a long time since the Quantock Stag Hounds hunted on a Saturday. The increase in tourism and leisure on the Quantock Hills, particularly on weekends, meant that there were too many normal people up on the hills for the hunt to continue breaking the law and slaughtering deer out in the open.

I wrote earlier that the Quantock Stag Hounds hunt “areas allocated to them by the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds”. All hunts in the United Kingdom operate within set areas known as their ‘country’. The Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds (the D&S) ‘own’ the hunt country used by the other hunts down here. So the Quantock Stag Hounds are allowed to hunt areas by permission of the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds.

In fact, both the Quantock Stag Hounds and the Tiverton Stag Hounds have to attend the AGM of the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds – deferential cap in hand as it were – to ask permission to be allowed to carry on hunting the same areas, or ‘country’.

The D&S are incredibly influential and hold all the cards to the remaining stag hunts. They have even set up a subsidiary, the Badgworthy Land Company, to buy and look after the hunting rights across D&S country. They fully understand however the importance of a united front and one D&S master was recently overheard to say ‘We cannot ever allow the Quantock Stag Hounds to fall, because if they do, they’ll come for us next’. How insightful, but we’re coming for you whether the QSH fall or not..



Stag Hunting’s sick (very sick) ‘supporters’

There are hunt supporters and then there are the Quantock Stag Hounds supporters. If there was a scale on which you could measure depravity, you might put average hunt supporters somewhere near petty thieves, but Quantock supporters are right up there next to the most cruel sadists. Watching the hunt slaughter deer seems to be what they live for…

Stag hunting really is not like other forms of hunting. One obvious difference is the gang of supporters or ‘followers’ it attracts.

Stag hunts are reliant on their supporters. This strain of the hunting community is exactly what it sounds like: a support network of wannabes and hangers-on who pay a ‘cap fee’ to the hunt – which is like the most grubby pay-per-view fee that exists.

Supporters hand over a cash payment at every meet and it forms part of the hunt’s income. Along with whiskey raffles and their ‘200 clubs’ all these little side hustles form important cash-in-hand opportunities for the hunt. The supporters are furnished with a little white sticker which in the case of the Quantock Stag Hounds is displayed inside their vehicles. And supporters really are largely reliant on their vehicles throughout the day, because of the speed and vast distances covered as the hunted stag runs for his life.

This is what happens on a stag hunt in the Quantocks. The supporters spread out across the Quantock Hills. They saturate the area in 4×4’s and motorcycles in efforts to help hunt the stag and communicate his location to the hunt staff by radio and mobile phone. The followers are like a sick countryside version of the Eye of Mordor, searching and preying on the deer who are desperately running for their lives.

With the web of followers spreading like a virus across the hills, the deer stand almost no chance. With deep combes and high hill tops the terrain serves as much as a hindrance to the hunted deer as it serves as a help to the stag hounds. Perched atop the hills like sentries of death clutching their radios these bloodsport lunatics can be heard broadcasting their psychopathic excitement as they report the deer’s location to the huntsman.

Once on the Hills these people become monsters, and the voice of a follower, dripping with lust for a kill, telling the rest of the followers and hunt staff where the stag is heading, is a deeply harrowing sound.

One very well-known QSH supporter complained to another recently, ‘We haven’t had any fun with a hind this year’. Their ‘fun’ looked like this; two QSH supporters gut shot a hind and allowed their terriers to hunt her, letting her go and hunting her again and again until they’d had their fill of fun. Then they killed her.

If that doesn’t give rise to a cold horror in you, nothing will. These people take delight in the torture of deer. They enjoy inflicting fear and pain, they revel in the fact that these acts bring suffering. They laugh as they pass by you after a kill.

Some people among the Quantock Stag Hounds lament the negative attention they receive. Like they’re the ‘victims’. They’re not. The likes of people like these – the followers, those who PAY to watch and take part in this horror – they have no right to moralise whatsoever.

A protected landscape

These people have no respect for wildlife,  for the people who want to protect that wildlife, or for the laws that protect the land itself.

The result of these incursions onto the Quantock Hills by lines of vehicle support is not just dead deer, but extensive damage to the delicate and ancient landscape. The ensuing stampede of horses, motorbikes, quad bikes and 4×4’s tear up the ground and destroy the fragile habitat. And the authorities do nothing about it.


Incredibly, there is a set of permitted tracks across the SSSI on which the supporters are allowed to drive their vehicles.  There is an actual map detailing ‘Consent for Hunt Vehicles’ – in other words, a map (a map!) showing where supporters can drive across a protected site to watch an illegal hunt take place!

These tracks have been agreed between Natural England and landowners: driving outside of these permitted routes across the hills and onto the SSSI is a criminal offence. You could be forgiven for not realising this because Avon and Somerset Police, heads firmly in the sand, look the other way and deploy every excuse they can muster to not act – everything from blaming call handlers for failing to input data effectively, asking for specific What3Words locations from monitors reporting the bleeding obvious, to even denying being in possession of the correct map (which as you can see below is clearly marked with their own force emblem!).

Both Natural England and Avon and Somerset Police CAN deal with individuals committing these offences. Under Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act using a mechanically propelled vehicle without lawful authority on common land, moorland or any footpath or bridleway is an offence. Despite many reports made over the years by locals and by campaigners there is a serious lack of police action in this respect.  (That could be because they’re running scared. The Secret Monitor knows for a fact that the hunt once drove at the special who used to cover the Quantocks, trying to run him over in the middle of Holford village!).

Enabling the supporters to drive where they want really matters. Never underestimate the link between supporter access to the hills and the very survival of the Quantock Stag Hounds. If the tracks were closed to followers, they would be limited to a small area of access and their opportunity to view, and participate, in the gruesome undertaking would be lost. This unique opportunity for the supporters to actively partake in the hunt is what attracts them to it. Remove their opportunity to participate and they’ll soon move away from the Quantocks.

If Avon and Somerset police took the matter seriously and enforced the law without fear or favour, the deer on the Quantocks may stand a fighting chance. The abject failure of the police to address this issue enables hunt supporters to infest the hills in their pursuit of the deer.

Followers have in the past complained of ‘silent hunting’. When a campaign to highlight the ongoing situation with the Quantock Stag Hounds was thrust into the public domain by Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off in 2017, the hunt responded by allowing the radio waves to fall silent, leaving their supporters in the dark. This move by the hunt meant supporters strayed away from the QSH in search of a better ‘hit’ of bloodlust, moving away from the Quantock Stag Hounds for other hunts. Where the followers go, so does their cap fee.

Remove the tracks. Lose the followers. The hunt suffers a financial hit. A sustained loss of supporters will result in the already precarious financial viability of this hunt tipping into a crisis point.

Make no mistake, this sordid practice is only still going on because those who can do something, don’t. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.


The ‘guardians of the deer’

The Quantock Stag Hounds are dirty, in every way. In their interactions with landowners, their connections with the police, in everything they do there are undeniable shady dealings and deviance.

Here is an example. The Quantock Stag Hounds have attempted to sweet-talk Lady Elizabeth Gass for years. Lady Gass is a former Chair of the Exmoor National Park Committee, and the Gass estate is north of the A39. Hunts are not permitted to chase stags on it. Of course, that doesn’t stop them. ‘Accidents’ where they end up hunting a stag north of the A39 are smoothed over by their chairman hand-delivering a bottle of whiskey and grovelling about how ‘it won’t happen again’. These incidents place them outside of the law. It is a criminal offence.

One such scenario where a deer was hunted north of the A39 involved a very healthy strong stag. A buoy became entangled around his antlers and concerned residents reported him to the RSPCA. Inspectors attended the stag’s location and assessed his condition as healthy: he was eating and drinking well and ‘charging about’. Other than the unusual adornment to his antlers, he was in no need of any urgent intervention. The RSPCA planned to dart the stag so that they could remove the buoy, but they weren’t able to: the hunt got there first.

Armed with dogs, guns, radios and vehicles, the Quantock Stag Hounds hunted and killed the stag. To relieve his ‘suffering’.

They call themselves ‘Guardians of the Deer’. They’re not. They’re cruel and sadistic lawbreakers, plain and simple.

Until next time

The Secret Monitor

Photos by The Secret Monitor

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