Skip to content

Is Hunting Legal in the UK?

Hunting is legal in the United Kingdom. The laws and rules for hunting and shooting vary across different countries within the UK. In England and Wales, there are no closed seasons for deer, game birds, or hares. Additionally, wild boar can only be hunted with hounds between 1 July and 31 January.

Hunting in the UK is a deeply rooted tradition with a complex legal framework designed to balance heritage, conservation, and animal welfare.

Legal Framework Governing Hunting

The legality of hunting in the UK is governed by a comprehensive set of laws designed to regulate the practice and protect wildlife. The main legislative frameworks include the Hunting Act 2004, Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Deer Act 1991, and the Firearms Act 1968.

Hunting Act 2004

This act specifically addresses the practice of hunting wild mammals with dogs. It effectively bans traditional fox hunting, hare coursing, and similar activities.

However, it allows for certain exceptions, such as trail hunting, where a scent trail is laid for hounds to follow, and exemptions for pest control.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

This broad legislation covers the protection of wildlife and their habitats. It sets out regulations for hunting various species, ensuring that hunting activities do not threaten biodiversity.

The act includes schedules listing protected species and specifying closed seasons during which hunting these species is prohibited.

Deer Act 1991

The Deer Act provides specific regulations for deer hunting, including restrictions on hunting methods and closed seasons to protect deer during vulnerable periods such as breeding.

It requires hunters to obtain appropriate licences and adhere to guidelines for humane and ethical hunting practices.

Firearms Act 1968

This act governs the possession and use of firearms, which are often integral to hunting activities. It outlines the licensing requirements for owning and using firearms, ensuring that individuals are qualified and responsible.

Hunters must comply with stringent safety standards and secure storage requirements for their firearms.

Classification of Protected Species and Hunting Seasons

  • The UK law classifies certain species as protected, making it illegal to hunt them without specific exemptions. Protected species are listed in various schedules under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
  • Hunting seasons, or open seasons, are designated periods when it is legal to hunt specific game species. These seasons are designed to ensure that hunting does not interfere with breeding cycles and to promote sustainable wildlife populations.

Specific Regulations for Different Types of Hunting

Fox Hunting

Fox hunting with dogs has a long tradition in the UK, but the practice has been heavily restricted by the Hunting Act 2004. This act effectively banned the hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales, making it illegal to use dogs to hunt foxes, hares, and other wild mammals.

Current Legal Status and Permitted Alternatives

  • While traditional fox hunting is banned, the law allows for certain exceptions, such as using up to two dogs to flush out a fox for pest control purposes, provided the fox is shot as soon as possible.
  • Trail hunting, where a scent trail is laid for hounds to follow, has emerged as a legal alternative. This method mimics the traditional hunt without the intention of killing a live fox.

Deer Hunting

Regulations Under the Deer Act 1991

Deer hunting, or stalking, is regulated under the Deer Act 1991, which sets out specific provisions to ensure the humane and sustainable management of deer populations.

To hunt deer legally, individuals must possess a valid hunting licence. This typically involves demonstrating proficiency in deer management and marksmanship.

Hunters must obtain the necessary licences and adhere to closed seasons to protect deer during breeding times. The act also specifies minimum calibre requirements for firearms used in deer hunting to ensure humane kills.

Bird Shooting

Legal Requirements for Shooting Game Birds

Game bird shooting is regulated to ensure sustainable practices. Hunters must comply with the Game Act 1831 and Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which set out closed seasons and protected species.

Legal shooting seasons vary by species; for example, pheasant shooting is permitted from 1st October to 1st February.

Open Seasons and Protected Species

Each game bird species has a designated open season, and shooting outside these periods is illegal. Closed seasons protect birds during breeding and rearing.

Gamekeepers play a crucial role in managing estates and ensuring that shooting practices comply with legal and ethical standards. They oversee habitat management, predator control, and the health of game bird populations.

Role of Organisations in Promoting Ethical Hunting and Conservation

  • Various organisations in the UK work to promote ethical hunting and conservation. Groups such as the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Countryside Alliance provide resources, training, and advocacy for sustainable hunting practices.
  • These organisations collaborate with government agencies, landowners, and the hunting community to develop policies and initiatives that balance the needs of wildlife conservation with the interests of hunters.

Author – Julie Condliffe

Julie Condliffe is a four-time bestselling author, successful property investor and an award winning solicitor. She is the founding partner of Creative Legals.