Lowland Game Shooting Study
Biodiversity on lowland farm landscapes has been in decline since before the middle of the last century, largely as a result of agricultural intensification. However, a number of demonstration projects and studies on specific habitats have shown that management for shooting has the effect of slowing or even reversing such declines. But are these effects general and widespread?
The purpose of the Lowland Game Shooting Study was to establish the importance of shooting in maintaining rich wildlife and a diverse countryside throughout the British Isles and not just at sites where best practice is actively promoted.
The study was undertaken by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE, now the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) under contract to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC). The project steering group comprised BASC, ITE and English Nature.
The two-year study (1997-1998) examined the influence of game shooting on the management of arable and pasture areas of lowland Britain.
The first element assessed land cover and woodland habitats, comparing areas managed for game with areas not so managed. Data was analysed from the latest ITE Countryside Survey (1990), a national survey of land cover and vegetation based on sampled 1 km squares.
The second element studies the history of woodlands within a subsample of these squares. Maps were used that went back over a century, supplemented by discussions with landowners and managers.
The third element was a field study of habitats, flora and fauna on a random sample of paired 1 km squares. Each pair consisted of a ‘game square’ i.e. with evidence of game management and a ‘non-game square’ i.e. with no such management. Each pair was selected to be as similar as possible in terms of environmental conditions and landscape structure.
The fourth element considered how habitat area and landscape composition differed between game and non-game squares and the implications for biodiversity. The results were used in a computer model to evaluate the effects of landscape change on game squares that would improve biodiversity and be compatible with game shooting and agricultural interests.
Unlike many other studies, the study sites were selected at random and not ‘cherry-picked’ to represent the best. Comparisons were therefore designed to be conservative, tending to underestimate, rather than overestimate, any effects.
The results were brought together to suggest guidelines to landowners and shoot managers for improving the benefits to biodiversity from landscapes managed for game.
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