Fox-hunting in England and Wales: its contribution to the management of woodland and other habitats.
Hunting foxes with hounds has been a countryside pursuit in Britain since the 17th Century, but its effect nationally on habitat management is little understood by the general public. A survey questionnaire was distributed to 163 mounted fox hunts of England and Wales to quantify their management practices in woodland and other habitat. Ninety-two hunts (56%), covering 75,514 km2, returned details on woodland management motivated by the improvement of their sport. The management details were verified via on-site visits for a sample of 200 woodlands. Following verification, the area of woodlands containing the management was conservatively estimated at 24,053 (±2241) ha, comprising 5.9% of woodland area within the whole of the area hunted by the 92 hunts. Management techniques included: tree planting, coppicing, felling, ride and perimeter management. A case study in five hunt counties in southern England examined, through the use of botanical survey and butterfly counts, the consequences of the hunt management on woodland ground flora and butterflies. Managed areas had, within the last 5 years, been coppiced and rides had been cleared. Vegetation cover in managed and unmanaged sites averaged 86% and 64%, respectively, and managed areas held on average 4 more plant species and a higher plant diversity than unmanaged areas (Shannon index of diversity: 2.25 vs. 1.95). Both the average number of butterfly species (2.2 vs. 0.3) and individuals counted (4.6 vs. 0.3) were higher in the managed than unmanaged sites.