Outrage as more than 100 stag hunters gather despite Rule of Six lockdown rule

As the government continues to stress its ‘Rule of Six’ policy to limit the spread of coronavirus, over 100 people met for a stag hunt on Exmoor.

The event was organised by Devon and Somerset Staghounds. The group, one of the last three staghound packs remaining in the UK, recently received a £10,000 grant and a £50,000 loan from taxpayer-backed schemes aimed at compensating businesses for money lost due to lockdown.

There were around 130 people at the event, according to a witness from the League Against Cruel Sports. There were around 30 riders, up to 70 cars, each containing more than one hunting fan, and several people on quad bikes.

Few, if any, of the participants were wearing masks.

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When the new ‘Rule of Six’ was introduced, the government expressly exempted hunting parties from the regulations. It’s not clear whether there is any limit on the size of hunting groups.

Eyewitness Paul Tillsley told The Independent that the group was mingling freely, with no hint of social distancing: “It makes a mockery of the sacrifices people are making around the country to limit gatherings and stop the spread of the disease,” he said.

“A large number of them were elderly so vulnerable to coronavirus. It’s ridiculous … we can’t meet more than six people in our gardens but if you’re on horseback hunting it’s fine."

“I only saw one person with a mask on," he added. "… you go to the high street and everyone in shops wears masks. These people were undermining all that.”

Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, told Daily Star Online: “That over a hundred people were hunting or watching the hunt chase a distressed deer for many miles, makes a mockery of the sacrifices being made by the vast majority of the British public to avoid large gatherings during the Covid-19 crisis.

“Hunting deer with dogs was made illegal in 2005 but the Devon and Somerset Staghounds still meet three times a week and are followed by large numbers of supporters who pay to view the grotesque spectacle – it’s bizarre that this cruel spectator sport is allowed to continue.”

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The hunt’s official site says that although stag hunting was banned by the Hunting Act 2004, the hunt, “with the support of the farmers and landowners of the moor have continued to meet three times a week during the season to manage the deer on their behalf.”

They describe their current activities as “monitoring the numbers, distribution and health of the herd.”

“Stag hunters are at the top of the social hierarchy on Exmoor,” said Mr Tillsley. “They don’t need a licence because they don’t use land owned by the National Trust.

“They rely on farmers to give them permission.”

Daily Star Online has contacted DEFRA and Devon and Somerset Police for comment.

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