The West Country staghound packs have resolved to find a way to continue hunting within the law following last week’s dismissal of an appeal by the Quantock Staghounds.

Huntsman Richard Down and amateur whipper-in Adrian Pillivant appealed against their June conviction of hunting a wild mammal with dogs. The case centred on the exemption, under the Hunting Act, of flushing a wild mammal using two dogs.

It was a private prosecution, brought by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), using video evidence filmed in Somerset on 16 February 2006.

Giving his judgement on Friday at Taunton Crown Court, Mr Justice Wyn Williams acknowledged the difficulties of working within the Act and gave some clarification on the flushing exemption.

Crucially, he also accepted that both Mr Down and Mr Pillivant believed they were hunting lawfully, saying: “We accept that both men did not set out to break the law. . . that they considered they were entitled to enjoy their sport provided they complied with the statutory conditions as they believed them to be.”

This contradicts District Judge David Parsons, who convicted the pair in June, saying they were “disingenuous in attempting to deceive me into believing they were exempt hunting”.

On Monday, Richard Down said: “We shall carry on. The judgement will make things harder, but at least we have it in black and white now.”

He said the hunt will meet this week to discuss how to proceed.

“At least we cleared our names,” said Mr Down. “This judge believed we were doing what we thought was lawful.”

On Monday, chairman of the Masters of Deerhounds Association Tom Yandle told H&H: “Of course we’re not pleased with the judgement. There are good parts and bad parts, but the initial reaction is ‘on we go’.

“We have to talk to lawyers about how we can proceed, it’s such a badly written Act. We are pursuing other exemptions.”

Mr Yandle’s views were echoed by chairman of the Council of Hunting Associations Stephen Lambert, who said: “People are stoic and positive about the judgement, and are continuing to think ‘outside the box’ about how they can hunt meaningfully within the law.”

Read this news story in full, including a solicitor’s view on how the judgement affects deerhunting and a time line of hunting prosecutions to date, in the current issue of Horse & Hound (25 October, ’07)