Conservation through wise use

Red grouse (www.davidkjaer.com)Game shooting provides an incentive to manage game animals and their habitats. This investment in wildlife management and habitat ameliorates the effects of intensive farming or forestry so improving conservation in the countryside as a whole.

The term wise use, when applied to hunting, is based on the optimum sustainable yield. Stable wildlife populations have reproduction and death rates that balance each other. This happens because, as natural resources are used up, mortality increases and fecundity reduces.  This density dependence maintains population stability. When hunted, a population is reduced, but this frees-up resources which reduces other mortality or increases the birth rate.

Thus regularly hunted populations stabilise at lower levels than unhunted ones, but are more productive. The maximum sustainable hunting rate is achieved when the largest number of animals are breeding at the fastest possible rate. This is the maximum sustainable yield. Harvesting strategies are usually set at a rate lower than this - the optimum sustainable yield.

Game managers try to enhance productivity by providing better habitat and more food, and at the same time reduce the mortality due to predators and disease. In this way managed game populations are very productive and often have higher breeding stocks than populations that are not managed and not shot.

Game management can also benefit animals and plants that have similar requirements. In this way game management can be said to support wildlife conservation overall. Some UK examples include:

  • Upland heather moor has been retained because of grouse shooting
  • Upland heather management and predator control increases waders such as curlew and lapwing
  • Woodland is planted and retained for pheasants
  • Woodland managed for pheasants is more diverse than woodland managed for forestry
  • Field margins managed to help partridge chicks also help wild flowers and butterflies
  • Game food crops planted as cover for game birds in winter also feed many songbirds

But, over-intensive game management can reduce some biodiversity if, for example, rare carnivores and birds of prey are exterminated. Hunting and game management is only conservation through wise use if these species are conserved too.

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