Why are there bird shooting 'seasons'?

The vast majority of birds that breed in or regularly visit the UK are rightly protected by law and can not be harmed or killed at any time of the year.

For those unfortunate species that were long ago declared as ‘game’ or ‘quarry’ though (and there are no biological reasons for the choices that were made) there are set periods within the year (originally laid down in the Game Act 1831) when they are legally allowed to be killed.

One day it’s against the law to kill birds like grouse, partridges, woodcock, and snipe – the next day, on a calendar date set centuries ago – anyone who wants to can take a gun outside and shoot them.

And that’s because of so-called ‘seasons’.

For most ‘quarry’ species these ‘seasons’ start between the middle of August/the 1st of September and end on January 31st.

UK shooting seasons when birds are killed
(HWM = High Water Mark of ordinary spring tides England, Wales and Scotland. Any area below high-water mark of ordinary spring tides Isle of Man. Geese can only be shot under general licence.)

Conservation? Of course not.

Some shooting lobbyists like to claim that allocating ‘seasons’ and not killing birds during their breeding seasons, when species are attempting to rebuild their numbers after the hardships endured during winter or on migration, makes them ‘conservationists’.

The truth is far more simple.

Landowners realised centuries ago that if they killed, for example, every single grouse or partridge on their land and didn’t allow them a chance to breed there would be nothing to kill later in the year. And for the species that don’t breed here in large numbers anyway but which shooters still like to kill, notably some shorebirds like the Red-listed Woodcock (pictured) and wild geese which arrive here in the winter from their breeding grounds, shooters had little choice but to wait to kill them.

Which sounds far more like selfish opportunism than conservation…

Just think for a moment about the concept of shooting ‘seasons’ though.
In the 21st century – and regardless of how much the rest of us love birds, of habitat loss, collapsing biodiversity, and climate change – there are still periods when anyone with a gun can leave their house and go out and shoot at and kill birds because they want to or find it exciting.
It is ridiculous, and yet another reason to close down the shooting industry altogether.