Published online 29 May 2003 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news030527-4

News

Hunt hosts conserve wildlife

Survey hints that field sports can boost conservation.

Hunt-friendly landowners grow more woods and hedgerows.>Hunt-friendly landowners grow more woods and hedgerows.>© GettyImages

Landowners who host sports like fox-hunting and game shooting conserve more wildlife than those who don't, according to a new British survey. Amid vociferous calls for hunting to be banned, the finding is being welcomed by those who want outdoor pursuits to remain legal.

The idea that hunting can benefit biodiversity has not been evaluated before, says the study team. The fierce debate over such sports has traditionally focused on the conflicting issues of cruelty and pest control.

Woodland and hedgerows have been shrinking for the past 50 years in Britain, along with their resident populations of mammals, birds and insects. Many farmland species, such as the skylark and grey partridge, have dwindled alarmingly and are at risk of extinction.

From aerial photographs and interviews with landowners, Nigel Leader-Williams and colleagues at the University of Kent in Canterbury conclude that those who allow hunting and shooting give a greater proportion of their property over to woodland. They are also more likely to have taken up government subsidies to plant woods or hedges during the past ten years1.

"It's an argument we've made in the past," says Tim Bonner, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, a rural-advocacy group based in London. "Hunting benefits the environment at large."

Others are confident, however, that a hunting ban would not lead to bare hillsides. "We might see a change in management style," says Norman Starks, operations director for the Woodland Trust, a conservation group based in Grantham, UK. "But I don't envisage a wholesale loss of woodland that has already been planted."

The damage that human recreation does to the environment is well known. But, as the latest study shows, it might also stimulate conservation efforts. Safari tourism, for example, has encouraged landowners in central and southern Africa to preserve habitats for many of the region's endangered species.

And this year, the Nature Conservancy, a conservation group that manages almost 50 million hectares of land and water worldwide, will allow deer hunting without a permit at several of its preserves in the United States. 

  • References

    1. Oldfield, T. E. E., Smith, R. J., Harrop, S. R. & Leader-Williams, N. Field sports and conservation in the United Kingdom. Nature, 423, 531 - 533, (2003). | Article | ISI | ChemPort |