This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
To the keeping of deer in enclosures no objection is taken by the general public other than that in the case of deer-forests occupying thousands, and deer-parks hundreds, of acres, some,1 if not all, of the land could be put to other purposes of greater service to the nation. But not a few persons declaim against stag-hunting on the ground of its cruelty, insisting that the hinds and dis-antlered stags used in the chase are practically domestic creatures, defenceless, and strangers to the district on which they are turned: therefore, flee through fear of hounds, are overtaken quickly, mangled, soon exhausted, or perchance the hunt staff be "up," given another chance, not of escape but of being chased, and often resulting in the deer seeking refuge in sheds, yards, and houses. Thus captured, "doctored," and carted off, the animal may be good for another day, for hunting several times each season, and for affording sport during ten years in some cases. Albeit, not many people at the meet see the run, and fewer the finish of the chase, therefore are unacquainted with the cruelties that come in in the course of the hunt: and these, the eye-witnesses protest, are not of a nature to cause a feeling of horror in other than fireside humanitarians.
1 According to the Report of the Deer Forest Commission, 1892, nearly 3,000,000 acres of land suitable for small holdings are available.
Hares and rabbits comprise ground game, and, as already shown, militate against arboricultural, agricultural and horticultural pursuits. The damage inflicted on forest-trees in their early stages of growth accounts in great measure for the indifferent supply and inferior quality of British deal and pine wood as compared with imported; and even hard-wood is so cross-grained for a considerable length of bole as to be unfit for structural purposes. The difference between British and imported timber is readily accounted for, inasmuch as in Britain wild animals, such as deer and hare, have been protected by forest and game laws from the time of the Norman Conquest: whereas in the wilds of Northern Europe and America no such restrictions existed, but any one, as in Saxon times in Great Britain, could help himself to a meal by the exercise of his skill as distinct from that of the chase: consequently, ruminant and rodent mammals good for food were kept from depredation in cultivated tracts, and even in their native wilds limited in number through the concomitant and counter-balancing forces of Nature, as well as by decimation increasing correspondingly with the bringing of forest and wild into cultivation by multiplied and advancing mankind.
This implies alike forest and chase depletion: hence we get at the root of the Forest Laws of William the Conqueror, and also the Game Laws of the Barons - the preservation of game for sport, the production of timber and of food being secondary considerations. These, however, always forced themselves to the front as antagonistic to the national aspirations for land to cultivate, and security for the crops from inroads of large and ground game. The large game - because the country would not stand its undue keeping at the expense of soil-cultivators and of hindrance to crop production - were restricted to forests and deer-parks, though deer at large were not allowed to be killed, but, like stray cattle, restored intact to the owners with or without impounding or recompense for damage. This, however, came to naught, for now large game, except the King's deer, may be destroyed when roaming at large. Ground game, equally with large game, may now be kept from eating the crops of owner and tenant cultivators, inasmuch as the Game Laws in force admit property in hares and rabbits to be vested in the occupiers of the land: but under existing laws the woodlands and warrens, which serve as the breeding places of hares and rabbits, may not be invaded by tenants or other cultivators not also owning or tenanting the coverts: therefore the ground game is free to sally forth at feeding-times and commit havoc according to number on cultivated crops coming within reach.
The ravages of this nature are distinctly encouraged, for no steps are taken to confine the game to the coverts, the protection of crops being left entirely to the cultivator, who, if to be as successful as the game-preserver, must destroy vermin, in which category hares and rabbits from an arboricultural, agricultural and horticultural standpoint, must be classed, with a distinction - that of their flesh being good food and their skins useful.
This antagonism of cultivators to many game-preservers is unquestionably due to over-preservation, ground and even winged game being so preserved and unrestricted as to hinder cultural effort, and inflict such loss as to confer all the profit on the game-preservation, or outweigh any advantage in respect of less rent exaction in consideration of game protection, the 2s. 6d. to 5s. per acre allowance being inadequate. On the other hand, tenants, particularly farmers, all imbued with sporting instincts, and landlords, especially resident owners, sportsmen " every inch," admit a reciprocity of interests, and maintain a good understanding. But when the landlord relegates the sporting rights over his estate to a tenant uninterested in sport other than head of game, discountenancing coursing, beagling and fox-hunting, the aspect of affairs change, as then there is no consideration for crops, and no requiting of injuries by taking of produce - hay, corn and straw. Thus the dual tenantship speedily leads to conflict - the farmer exercises his right to ground game and even to winged game, while the sporting tenant grumbles and deafens the owner with complaints, and the result is disaster to all concerned, both tenants, as the landlord's interest is solely pecuniary, clearing out, the sporting tenant through there not being any game adequate to the rental, and the farming-tenant through dilapidation of farm-steading and general neglect of estate Sooner or later the landlord finds himself possessed of land for which no tenant can be found, and the nation suffers loss in forest, farm, and garden crops.
As the habits of ground game - hares and rabbits - have already been referred to at considerable length under their respective heading, we now proceed to treat of preventive and repressive measures.