For a long time, man has influenced almost everything to do with flora, fauna and countryside in Britain.
Since Saxon times, woodlands and forests in Britain have been managed for game. Throughout the history of managed woodlands here, foresters have needed to exercise their skills to provide habitats for game animals and birds. The richly diverse woodland which favours many game animals and birds normally benefits other wildlife too.
Correctly managed, most game species in Britain can provide an optimal sustainable yield. Their populations are often higher on managed than unmanaged land.
Our ancestors hunted for food to subsist. Later the nobility hunted for sport and this practice became widespread subsequently. The ancient Hunting Forests were established as a preserve to afford hunting for the nobility and their guests.
Woodlands and forests are key game habitats throughout Britain. Many of the smaller copses and spinneys planted in this country were put in as part of the owners' management plans for pheasants.
Game species such as pheasants have a market value which consists principally of the sporting value for the shooting and to a lesser extent sale of the meat. The overall value provides an important incentive for the owners to conserve both the quarry and its habitat in the long term.
Pheasants are now one of our commonest birds. They were introduced by the Normans or possibly even the Romans and have formed large feral populations. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, pheasants have been intensively managed for shooting as a sporting bird. They are the main stay of lowland game shooting.
© John Jackson
Pheasants in particular provide an important motivation for land-owners to create, sympathetically manage and retain small farm woodlands. Managed shoots can be an important money-spinner in the countryside. Various game interests rank high on landowners' lists of priorities.
Woodlands managed mainly for pheasants differ from plantations for timber. The rides tend to be larger, shrubby woodland edge is important as are gaps in the woodland canopy (skylighting) to let light penetrate onto the woodland floor. These have benefits for other species sharing the woodlands.
Pheasants are not native to Britain but have a long history of residence here. Exactly who brought the first ones is debatable but by the 15th century, pheasants were common here. Along with long-naturalised species such as the rabbit and fallow deer, this bird is very much part of the countryside now. Although some pheasants are truly wild, most are reared in captivity and released subsequently for sport.
Deer are an important game animal too. Particularly valuable is the sale of the sporting rights to shoot males with trophy quality antlers, especially in lowland England where stalkers from mainland Europe will pay high prices to shoot roe deer. Click here to find out more about deer.
More: Useful links are to the Game Conservancy Trust and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation
The Game Conservancy's book "A Question of Balance - Game Animals and Their Role in British Countryside", edited by Dr Stephen Tapper looks at this topic (ISBN 1 901369 05 6; 1999).
FC Bulletin 106. Woodland Management for Pheasants. P.A. Robertson. 1992. HMSO. ISBN 0 11 710315 2.