Creation and conservation of habitat by foxhunting
A glance at any Ordnance Survey map for lowland England shows the effect of hunting on the landscape. The map will show that many woods are named “covert”, especially in the Midlands which has a particularly strong tradition of hunting. This shows that these coverts were planted for fox hunting at any time over the last 250 years.
Hunts are still planting woods today, whenever land and resources are available. Indigenous, broadleaved trees are nearly always the ones used and it is these trees that are the most valuable for other wildlife. Planting densities are kept low, to provide optimum conditions for thick scrub to develop which is what foxes prefer. Scrub is also of high conservation importance for many species, but it has largely disappeared.from elsewhere in the farmed landscape, as it is of no economic value to farmers with no sporting interests.
Significant areas of scrub survive in hunted areas, due to hunting. There are hunts in Wales, Leicestershire and elsewhere that protect the thorn scrub along disused railway lines.
In Yorkshire, gorse is protected and managed by hunts, and in Devon substantial areas of bracken are protected.
It is not only new woods that are being created, but existing woods are being managed by hunts to the benefit of wildlife in general. Research (GCT 2000) showed that hunts in Dorset manage an average of 10% of the woodlands in lowland areas that are hunted. The conservation work undertaken is predominantly coppicing and creation of sunny glades and paths, and keeping woodlands stock-proof, which is identical to the work done by conservation bodies to promote wildlife and habitat. Keeping woodlands stock-proof is essential to prevent disturbance and trampling by livestock.
“Habitat management undertaken in support of fox hunting in England and Wales”, JA Ewald and N Kingdon GCT July 2002 showed that: “ The area of woodlands managed for foxhunting in England and Wales is 23,300 hectares. This is based on information submitted by 93 hunts and is validated by on-site visits to a random selection of 235 woodlands. This figure is roughly double the area of woodland within the boundaries of National Nature Reserves in England and Wales”.