The principles of Gamebird Management in the UK

Why do we need these principles?

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust promotes best practice game management as a force for good for nature conservation and environmental improvement on farmland, woodland, moorland and wetland. By establishing principles, we want to promote best practice and sustainable game management that aim to deliver a net gain for biodiversity.

Biodiversity net gain is a concept that is embedded in Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan and is an approach to land use that leads to an increase in biodiversity. The principles are designed to function and to have relevance across a wide range of interest groups from game managers and participants in game shooting, through to conservation organisations, Government and the general public.

How did we develop them?

To promote best practice, we produced a set of draft principles in autumn 2019, which were presented and discussed at 19 private shoot briefing meetings held between autumn 2019 and spring 2020, each with an audience of approximately 30 shoots, varying in size but including some large commercial shoot operations. An online consultation, via the GWCT website was live through May and June 2020. Over 340 responses were received, with over 90% support for the principles.

We reviewed internationally agreed guidelines on sustainable use and biodiversity. Many of the principles align closely with the Bern Convention European Charter on Hunting and Biodiversity. This charter has guidelines for game managers but also regulators so that they can help game managers to benefit conservation of biodiversity.

The charter is based on two important agreements of the Convention on Biological Diversity. These are the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for Sustainable use of biodiversity and the ecosystem approach to conservation (Malawi Principles). The Charter on Hunting and Biodiversity, and the Malawi and Addis Ababa Principles are supported by the IUCN (the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it).

The principles of sustainable game management

  1. Biodiversity. All shoots, whether based on wild gamebirds, released gamebirds or a combination of both, should strive to achieve a net biodiversity gain on their land. 
  2. Landscape. Through active management of the rural landscape, effective game management supports the growth of game populations, allowing a sustainable harvest with positive benefits for other species whilst avoiding population levels which could damage other land uses such as farming, forestry and nature conservation.
  3. Densities. Gamebirds should only be released and managed at densities appropriate to the local circumstances, so that there is a net environmental gain from undertaking such activity. 
  4. Diversity. Appropriate habitat creation, management and sometimes restoration is needed for all gamebirds. Maintaining this critical and appropriate diversity of habitats is a feature of our advice and recommendations, based on our scientific research and observation. Habitats created, restored and managed to support gamebirds include woodland, hedgerows, field margins, game cover crops, wild bird seed mixes, moorlands and wetlands. 
  5. Timing. Releasing gamebirds in the summer increases the number of birds available to shoot in the autumn and winter. Shoot managers should only release gamebirds in habitats that enable them to acclimatise quickly to life in the wild, following the guidelines and recommendations outlined in the Code of Good Shooting Practice and British Game Alliance standards.
  6. Development. Following release of gamebirds, habitats should be provided to encompass their year-round needs. All birds should be fully adapted to life in the wild before the first shoot day. 
  7. Responsibility. Shoots should ensure that all game that is fit for human consumption is eaten.
  8. Science. Grouse and wild partridge shoots should assess their proposed bag by calculating the sustainable yield based on annual game counts and follow GWCT recommendations for sustainable harvest of wild game.
  9. Sustainability. Game management provides an incentive to privately fund the creation, restoration and management of habitats across large areas of the countryside specifically for wildlife – something which is usually only incidental to other forms of land use such as forestry or farming. 
  10. Wildlife. Habitats created and managed to support released gamebirds include woodland, hedgerows, field margins, game cover crops, wild bird seed mixes and wetlands. Much other wildlife benefits from this habitat provision. Alongside the habitat provided and managed for gamebirds, predation control and supplementary feeding are often important aspects of game management. These activities can benefit a wide range of other wildlife.
  11. Balance. Predation control is undertaken to reduce predation pressure. This is especially important in spring, to reduce levels of predation on nesting birds, nests and chicks and during summer to protect young birds. Many species, including several of conservation concern, benefit from predation control undertaken to conserve gamebirds.
  12. Legal control. The predators targeted are common and successful generalists so a temporary reduction in their numbers locally will not jeopardise their population or conservation status. Predation control activities should be undertaken according to best practice guidelines to ensure they are legal, humane and effective. In no circumstances should any protected species ever be illegally killed to protect game, nor should any predation control activity risk negatively affecting the conservation status of a species.

What is the Bern Convention?

The Bern Convention is a binding international legal instrument in the field of nature conservation, covering most of the natural heritage of the European continent and extending to some States of Africa. It is the only Convention of its kind worldwide and aims to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats, as well as to promote international co-operation in this field.

The treaty also takes account of the impact that other policies may have on natural heritage and recognises the intrinsic value of wild flora and fauna, which needs to be preserved and passed to future generations

Fifty countries (including the UK) and the European Union have signed up to the Convention and committed to promoting national conservation policies, considering the impact of planning and development on the natural environment, promoting education and information on conservation, and coordinating research. Apparently, much EU wildlife/environmental law uses Bern Convention text word for word. It would be very difficult for any conservation organisation to not support the Charter.

What else can I do?

A PDF of the Principles is available here.

You can also join nearly 10,000 others in showing your understanding of responsible shooting by taking the free GWCT Accredited Game Shot test. The test aims to give you confidence in asking appropriate questions of your own shoot or the ones you visit, to appreciate the ways in which a gamekeeper is a working conservationist, to engage in controversial issues affecting shooting and explain the ways legislation and regulation covers shoot management. You can take the test here.