Anti-hunt group to sell off safe haven land
The League Against Cruel Sports is selling woodland valued at £250,000 to boost its fighting fund.
It is the latest safe haven for animals to be sold off by the anti-hunting group, which has received donations of vast swathes of countryside over the years by sympathetic landowners.
Critics say the League is now close to disposing of all its holdings in a bid to shore up its ailing finances.
The pro-hunting Countryside Alliance says the League's financial position is on a downward spiral, with fewer than 4,000 members and deficit of £191,000 returned after land sales, in 2012.
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Director for campaigns at the Countryside Alliance Tim Bonner said: "It is hard to see how its financial position is sustainable.
"However if this ultimately leads to the sale of their final landholding, Baronsdown, this is good news for wildlife as the so-called reserve has had regular problems with disease and poor welfare among the deer there."
The League was one of four main landowners on Exmoor, along with the National Trust, the Exmoor National Parks Authority and the Badgworthy Land Company, a consortium of pro-hunters set up to directly oppose the league's previous land acquisitions.
Other landowners include former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, who bought a wood next to the league's Baronsdown reserve, which is also managed by the League.
Estate Agents Seddons are marketing the latest plot to be sold – Cowley Woods, at Parracombe, near Barnstaple – which has a guide price of £250,000.
The land covers 68 acres of "sloping, mixed broad-leafed woodland in two blocks" in Exmoor National Park.
A condition of the sale is that the League retains the sporting rights for the land, which means a total ban on hunting.
A spokesman for the League said: "The land we own has been bought with money donated to our general campaigns, or has been gifted to us to further our work against cruel sports.
"Where we believe that end aim is best achieved through the sale or the land, we will consider sale.
"Whenever we do this we ensure we thoroughly vet the purchaser to ensure sympathy with our aim and previous use of the land, and we always retain the sporting rights to prevent hunting on the land."
The League at one time owned around 40 wildlife reserves, holding or managing as much as 2,000 acres of land in Somerset, which it bought or was donated, over decades to try to curtail the activities of stag hunts.
Following the Hunting Act of 2005, the group said it was about to turn its attention to preventing game shooting.
However, in 2010, amid fears a free Parliamentary vote might see the Act repealed and a return to hunting with hounds, the League announced a £1 million campaign to save the legislation.
The League is understood to have sold Barlynch Priory, a valuable rural property on land it owns, around five years ago.
Figures from its annual return show that a £60,000 property has also been sold in the past year.
The League was buoyed by donations via legacies, which were up nearly £400,000 and is thought to be raising around £525,000 from property sales.
Supporters of hunting and shooting say the League miscalculated the effect of the hunting ban and the determination of hunts to continue meeting and riding to hounds.