NATIONAL Trust bosses have moved swiftly to scotch claims that exempt stag hunting could be allowed on the Holnicote Estate.

Trust managers held emergency meetings yesterday (Wednesday) after reports suggested a partial lifting of the ban it imposed six years ago was being seriously' considered by the trust.

A statement issued by the trust's Wessex regional spokesman, Alex Brannen, said: "Contrary to recent press reports, the National Trust's board of trustees has decided exempt hunting of deer, as practised by the local hunt in the area, should not be permitted on its Holnicote Estate."

Mr Brannen said a working group had considered the use of a maximum of two hounds to flush a deer - which then under the terms of the Act had to be shot dead "as soon as possible" compared with the trust's current practice of culling deer by shooting by rifle.

He said the trust wanted to establish whether the exempt hunting of deer avoided the long chases, exhaustion and stress to deer that were the reasons for the trust ceasing to issue licences for conventional deer hunting in 1997.

Mr Brannen said: "The board accepted the that exempt hunting should not be licensed on trust property because of the uncertainties over the nature of the activity and the difficulty experienced of obtaining clear evidence relating to it.

But he said in exceptional cases when a clearly injured or sick deer was found on adjacent property during exempt hunting and crosses onto the Trust's land before it can be despatched, the minimum number of hunt staff necessary to kill the deer humanely would be allowed onto Trust property to enable the animal to be killed as soon as possible.

The hunt would be required to inform the trust's local staff in advance.

Mr Brannen added: "This arrangement will be reviewed after a year."