Beagles Passing Through

The Weardale and Tees Valley beagles performing a "search and destroy" action for wounded hares on the Chayne

The Chayne is a hopeless spot for hunting. Surrounded on three sides by forestry, any likely looking fox immediately high tails it to the nearest cover, easily shaking off the hounds in the dense cover of the trees. The Dumfries and Stewartry gunpack has tried and failed to draw the land on several occasions. In 2008, they publicly admitted defeat and refused to return, so I was more than a little confused to hear the distinctive baying of hounds as I drove up to the farm this morning.

The hill was smothered in thick patches of fog which seemed to amplify the sound of the dogs. I soon found that there had been a small hare shoot on the neighbouring property the previous day and the Weardale and Tees Valley beagles had volunteered their services in the cleaning up operations. Several hares were known to have run on after being shot, and thankfully there is a loophole in the anti-hunting legislation which allows hounds to recover wounded animals. As far as I know, there are no hares anywhere on the Chayne, but at least one had been seen heading for the farm after receiving a botched shot yesterday morning. I was delighted to allow them on to the farm for a look, and with that effortless generosity of the hunting fraternity, I soon had a glass of sloe gin in my hand.

The beagles swirled in the rushes and cocked their legs in a variety of angles until one yipped, bringing on a shrill cacophony of barks and yells. They dashed off purposefully and then turned to run along the foot of a shattered barbed wire fence. After a hundred yards, they seemed to draw a blank and spread out into confusion again. I have always found it impossible to interpret the movements of hounds, so whether they had found the hare or not was anyone’s guess.

Talking to one of the whips, I mentioned that there are black grouse on the farm and he amazed me by saying that he had over four hundred of the birds on a site in County Durham. The fog was coming in to settle again, and it seemed like some of the more over enthusiastic beagles were set on worrying the farm dogs, but during the few short moments of our conversation, he told me that his black grouse are obsessed with juniper bushes, and that they were a necessity for someone in my position. I thanked him for his advice as the beagles began to speak again, then set off up the hill to install some tree guards.

From what I can gather, juniper trees are not indigenous to Dumfries and Galloway, but if the black grouse like them, it is probably time to get off my purist hobby horse and give them what they want.

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