23 March 2018
At a time when shooting is under scrutiny, it is essential that we understand and respect the law. There are many grey areas relating to game and wildlife, and here we seek to answer some common questions;
What is 'game' – is the definition always the same? Sadly, the term has not been universally defined as a matter of law, and its various definitions in relevant statutes are incongruent. For example, issues arise when distinguishing ground game and game birds, as well as with species such as woodcock, snipe and capercaille, which are not considered game birds under either The Game Act 1831 or The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, but are in other legislation. In leases and other legal documents it is best to be specific about what you actually want 'game' to mean. Deer do not fall into any definition of game.
Who owns game? While game remains in captivity, the owner has property rights over it. However, as soon as a wild state of being is assumed, ownership is lost. As with a dead deer, dead game belongs to the landowner on whose land it falls.
Who owns deer? Deer are not owned by anyone until killed or captured, in which case they become the property of the owner of the land on which they fall.
Is 'vermin' a defined term in law? No definition of the term is given in UK law. Vermin is shot under a 'general licence'. It is possible to lose this general licence so it should not be assumed that the right to shoot vermin is sacrosanct.
Are you allowed to shoot near a road? Under The Highways Act 1980, it is an offence to discharge a firearm within 50 feet of the centre of a public road.
If a car hits a pheasant, can the driver sue the landowner? Landowners are not responsible because once the pheasants escape and become wild, the landowner's property rights cease.
Are you allowed to retrieve a pheasant that lands on a neighbour's land? Without prior consent from the adjoining landowner, notwithstanding the pheasant being dead or wounded, it constitutes civil trespass to enter private property.
Lastly, are landowners responsible for the damage that game does to crops? Farming tenants can recover compensation for any losses (decided by arbitration) if specific provision is made in the tenancy agreement. Neighbours do not enjoy the same rights, but may have an action for nuisance in some circumstances.