Hunting for Conservation
Why do you think people hunt? Hunting has many motives. One is the joy of being immersed in nature, perhaps together with companion animals. From our hunter-gatherer roots comes also the pleasure of sharing experience with friends or bringing home food for family. These enjoyments may result in finding employment to manage wild species, of which some are problems for crops or conservation. Responsible culling can become essential for removing non-native invasive species, or others which harm vegetation in the absence of abundant predators. Deer and wild boar are such animals in the UK.
Hunting cannot continue without ecosystems healthy enough to sustain the species concerned. The enjoyment of hunting can therefore be a strong force for conserving ecosystems, either through paying landowners to preserve necessary habitat, or (as Habitat Heros) through voluntary help for land management. Across Europe as a whole, the private payments for ecosystem services from hunting, fishing and watching wildlife exceed the budget of the Common Agricultural policy; the hunters pay most per head. Therefore IUCN helped draft the European Charter on Hunting and Biodiversity, and considers hunting important for managing ecosystems, especially where best practice sets high standards.
There is increased scope in an independent UK for government agencies to catalyse conservation on private land, by bringing together interests that offer different skills. This has already happened for moorland, an ecosystem managed extensively for game as well as being a carbon sink, and from which the concept of moorland manager groups could usefully spread. The UK has many organisations which encourage conservation through hunting with guns, preferably with non-toxic shot, and trained predators. Could skills from Green Shoots mapping, game research and wild food marketing be combined to increase benefit for landowners, communities and nature from new private woodlands?
Fishing for solutions
There are about three times as many anglers as hunters across Europe, with some highly innovative approaches to improving the quality of fresh water. In the UK, angling organisation have joined with professional biologists for schemes to assess water quality through citizen-science monitoring of invertebrates and to alert authorities when pollution events occur. In parts of the UK where run-off of nitrates from farmland is a problem, it could be worth trying an ingenious solution which was good for hunting, fish stocks and water quality in Sweden.
There are several angling groups which support freshwater conservation in the UK. Coastal anglers act more as individuals and can therefore be at a disadvantage when commercial fishing interests come into play. In the Netherlands, government created an umbrella organisation funded by angling licences, and then given a strong conservation remit, in the spirit of Bern Convention’s European Charter on Recreational Fishing and Biodiversity. However, such cooperation has yet to happen in the UK.