Animal rights groups are outraged as overseas tour companies offer expensive shooting packages in UK conservation parks
Many Britons probably think that trophy hunting is something that happens abroad. But anyone looking to bag an animal’s head to grace that empty spot on their wall needs only to head to deepest, darkest Bedfordshire where they can shoot rare deer, or, for the financially stretched, wallabies and sheep.
A small number of overseas firms are offering trophy-shooting packages in the county, which boasts several impressive deer parks. A ‘grade A’ red deer stag, highly prized by hunters because of its magnificent antlers, can be shot for a £9,000 trophy fee, according to an online price list dated 2018 anddistributed by a Danish travel company called Limpopo & Diana Hunting Tours.
The company has been offering clients a range of shooting packages in Bedfordshire, including some at Woburn Abbey Deer Park, one of the largest conservation parks in Europe, which boasts that its 3,000 acres “are sanctuary to more than 1,200 individuals from nine species … including the critically endangered Père David’s deer, which was saved from extinction in its homeland thanks to a reintroduction from Woburn in 1985”.
A “grade A” Père David can be shot for £6,965, according to an email sent by Limpopo & Diana Hunting Tours to a potential client interested in shooting deer, who shared it with the Observer.
“Woburn Park is ideal for this and we can do Père David and red stag as well,” the company’s sales director explained to the client.
Woburn said it was “not affiliated” with the travel company. It did not address specific questions from the Observer but in a statement said: “One of the most important management aspects of the Deer Park is the annual cull. The cull is overseen by trained professionals to ensure a healthy and sustainable population of deer within the park. The cull is based on continued census counts and aims to improve age dynamics and diversity maintaining the population density at a level suitable to ensure the continued health and welfare of all the deer within the park. The culled animals are then sold as venison to local and national markets where it enters the food chain as a healthy and sustainable food product.”
While there is no suggestion that anything illegal is taking place, animal welfare groups expressed dismay that Bedfordshire has become a destination for trophy hunters. “We were horrified to discover trophy hunting was taking place in our own back yard and being marketed internationally on the novelty of being able to shoot ‘rare and exotic’ deer breeds,” said a spokesman from Bedfordshire Against Trophy Hunting.
“It’s shameful that trophy hunting is alive and well in Britain,” said Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports.
The deer park is owned by Bedford Estates which is controlled by the Duke of Bedford. Home to red deer for more than 250 years, its deer farm specialises in selective breeding to create “spectacular” antlers. On its website, the farm explains: “Our sire stags boast heavy weights of hard cut antler and high numbers of measurable points – traits which they will pass on to their offspring. Both offspring and semen from the sire stags are available.”
Some hunters appear to have reservations about the park’s breeding programme. One posted a comment on the Stalking Directory forum last year saying he found its focus on breeding stags with giant antlers “distasteful”. “The stags looked ridiculous, bred by man specifically to have obscenely large antlers so we could profit from them and feed our trophy-hunting egos. They looked entirely out of proportion,” he wrote.
Alternatively, those on a shoestring can visit a different park in Bedfordshire, which has no links to Woburn, and bag a wallaby for £220 or shoot a Soay sheep, known for its large horns and agility. A ram commands a trophy fee of £600 while a ewe is only £150, according to Limpopo & Diana’s price list.
After questions were raised on social media about its activities, Limpopo & Diana Hunting Tours, which did not respond to requests for comment, appears to have removed the price list from its main website, although it still exists on the internet. Believed to be one of several foreign tour firms offering trophy-shooting packages in England, it is advertising a four-day trip to another Bedfordshire deer park, including flights and accommodation, for €1,535, excluding trophy fees.
Clients will have the opportunity to shoot Chinese water deer, a “must for every trophy collection”. Its website explains: “Big black eyes, a thick soft coat and the male’s lack of antlers give this small buck a very feminine – nearly a cute cartoon-like – appearance. This teddy bear-like animal possesses a pair of long fangs that makes its trophy seem to have come from a totally different – and much darker – world.”