Hunting and shooting in the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom hunting without qualification generally refers to hunting with hounds-normally fox hunting, beagling, stag (deer) hunting or minkhunting-whereas shooting is the shooting of game birds. What is called deer hunting elsewhere is deer stalking.
As of 2012 game shooting and deer stalking are practised in the UK. Hunting with hounds in the traditional manner became illegal in 2002 in Scotland and 2005 in England and Wales, but continues on Northern Ireland. Following a trail (similar to drag hunting) rather than a live quarry subsequently grew in importance. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) says that over a million people a year participate in shooting, including game shooting, clay shooting and target shooting.
In Britain, hunting with hounds was popular in Celtic Britain before the Romans arrived, using the Agassaei breed. The Romans brought their Castorian and Fulpine hound breeds to England, along with importing the brown hare (the mountain hare is native) and fallow deer as quarry. Wild boar was also hunted.
The earliest known attempt to specifically hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk, in the East of England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing down foxes with their dogs as a form of pest control. Packs of hounds were first trained specifically to hunt foxes in the late 17th century, with the oldest such fox hunt likely to be the Bilsdale in Yorkshire. By the end of the 17th century, many organised packs were hunting both hare and fox.
Shotguns were improved during the 18th and 19th centuries and game shooting became more popular. To protect the pheasants for the shooters, gamekeepers culled vermin such as foxes, magpies and birds of prey almost to extirpation in popular areas, and landowners improved their coverts and other habitats for game. Game Laws were relaxed in 1831 which meant anyone could obtain a permit to take rabbits, hares and gamebirds.
Hunting was formerly a royal sport, and to an extent shooting still is, with many Kings and Queens being involved in hunting and shooting, including King Edward VII, King George V (who on 18 December 1913 shot over a thousand pheasants out of a total bag of 3937), King George VI and the present day Prince Philip, although Queen Elizabeth II does not shoot. Shooting on the large estates of Scotland was particularly popular. This trend is generally attributed to the Victorians who were inspired by the romantic imagery of the Scottish Highlands.
Forms of hunting and shooting
The shooting of game birds, in particular pheasant, is found in the UK, on large, traditional driven shoots on estates and on small-scale rough shoots. Shooting of game birds is carried out using a shotgun, most often 12 and 20 bore or a .410, often on land managed by a gamekeeper.
Game birds are shot in different ways. In driven game shooting, where beaters are employed to walk through woods and over moors or fields, dependent on the quarry and time of year and drive game towards a line of 8–10 standing guns standing about 50 or 60 metres apart. The guns will be members of a syndicate sharing costs, or have paid in the region of £25+ per bird for pheasants and much more for grouse. The total bag (number of birds shot) will be anywhere between 10 and 400, again dependent on the budget and quarry. The day may be very formal, and the head gamekeeper or a shoot captain will oversee proceedings. Great emphasis is placed on safety. Pickers-up with dogs are also employed to make sure all shot or wounded game is collected. On such estates, large numbers of pheasants, partridge and duck, but not grouse, are reared and released to provide sufficient numbers of game. Grouse cannot be reared intensively but the heather moorland where they live is intensively managed to maximise numbers.
Rough shooting, where several guns walk through a woodland, moor or field and shoot the birds their dogs put up, is increasingly popular. It is less formal and may be funded by several people grouping together to form a "syndicate", paying a certain amount each year towards pheasants, habitat maintenance, etc.
Wildfowling is often a lonely and uncomfortable sport. A single gun sits in pursuit of wildfowl by a body of water, or on the coastal foreshore, often at dawn or dusk, and waits for birds to "flight" in. This is sometimes undertaken in total darkness or by the light of the moon. Duck are also shot by the two methods described above.
High-powered rifles are used for deer stalking. This may take place high on moors, or from a "high seat" in woodland. Venison is also a highly popular meat with sales quadrupling in the UK in 2014. Victorian era English dramatist W. S. Gilbert remarked, "Deer-stalking would be a very fine sport if only the deer had guns."
In the UK "game" is defined in law by the Game Act 1831. Other (non-game) birds that are hunted for food in the UK are specified under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. UK law defines game as including:
|Species||Season (England, Scotland and Wales)||Season (Northern Ireland)|
|Pheasant||October 1 – February 1||October 1 – January 31|
|Partridge, grey and red-legged||September 1 – February 1||September 1 – January 31|
|Black grouse||August 20 – December 10||N/A|
|Red grouse||August 12 – December 10||August 12 – November 30|
|Ptarmigan||August 12 – December 10||N/A|
|Brown hare||No closed season||August 12 – January 31|
Although there is no close season for hare outside Northern Ireland, the Hare Preservation Act of 1892 makes it illegal to sell, or offer to sell, hare between 1 March and 31 July. Deer are not included in the definition, but similar controls provided to those in the Game Act apply to deer (from the Deer Act 1991). Deer hunted in the UK are:
Other birds and animals shot in the UK include:
- Wood pigeon
- Golden plover
The aforementioned species are those primarily pursued for game shooting. To this list can be added feral pigeon, jay, magpie, carrion crow, jackdaw, rook and collared dove, which are shot in the interests of vermin control rather than as game birds.
Capercaillie are no longer shot in the UK, as they are now protected (Scotland only) due to a long-term decline in population.
Field sports and conservation in the United Kingdom
Habitat destruction and fragmentation are major drivers of biodiversity loss in the United Kingdom, however landowners that participate in field sports, particularly hunting and shooting, are more likely to conserve and reinstate woodlands and hedgerows because they are utilized by quarry species. A study in 2003 showed that they are around 2.5-times more likely to plant new woodlands than landowners without game or hunting interests, and also conserve a far greater woodland area. These habitats are essential for the persistence of a wide range of other British wildlife, and consequently it has been suggested that field sports can provide valuable tools for wildlife conservation in the UK, without the need for governmental subsidies or protective legislation.
Landowners undertake management measures to improve habitats for quarry species, including shrub planting, coppicing and skylighting to encourage understory growth. Roger Draycott of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has reported the conservation benefits of game management schemes in the UK, including woodlands that exhibit denser undergrowth and higher abundances of native birds. However, overall evidence that game shooting is beneficial to wider biodiversity has been inconclusive: high densities of game birds are known to negatively impact ecosystems, resulting in shorter grassland vegetation, lower floral diversity in semi-natural woodlands, fewer saplings in hedgerows leading from such woodlands, and possible reductions in arthropod biomass attributable to predation.
The rearing of both wild and released game birds requires the provision of food and shelter during the winter months, and to achieve this landowners undertake planting of cover crops. Generally species such as maize or quinoa, these are planted in strips alongside arable land. Cover crops are also utilised by a variety of nationally declining farmland birds such as linnets and finches, providing valuable food resources and refuge from predators. One study assessed the response of bird assemblages to the implementation of a multi-dimensional game management system on a farm in Leicestershire, England. It was found that several declining species displayed significant population increases, suggesting that game management strategies may indeed play a major role in the conservation of wildlife in Britain, particularly threatened farmland passerines.
Prior to the Hunting Act, fox hunting also provided a major incentive for woodland conservation and management throughout England and Wales, with higher species diversity and abundance of plants and butterflies found in woodlands managed for foxes according to a survey of mounted hunts in 2006, verified by The Council of Hunting Associations. The long-term ecological effects following the cessation of fox hunting and related management practices are still to be realised.
A hunting lodge is a small country property specifically used for organising hunting parties. It can also be called a hunting box, shooting box or shooting lodge.
Such places might be quite separate or detached from the main property, or in a different part of the country.
The lodge may have a special room for hanging game and a gun room where guns were lodged and ammunition stored.
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