Wildfowling is the shooting of wild ducks and geese, which are shot over foreshores and inland and coastal marshes. Birds are shot with a shotgun, and less commonly, a large single barreled gun mounted on a small boat known as a punt.
Only certain ‘quarry’ species of wildfowl may legally be shot in the UK, and they still have protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and related legislation. Laws name which species may be killed, close seasons when they have protection from shooting, and on what days birds may or may not be shot.
LEAD SHOT: The use of lead shot for hunting wildfowl or over wetlands was banned in 1999 following ratification of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) by the UK Government, and many wildfowlers (though not all) are switching to modern guns which allow the use of non-toxic ammunition such as steel or tungsten based cartridges.
WILDFOWLING SEASONS(All dates are inclusive)
- England, Wales and Scotland: 1 September – 31 January – Above the mean high water mark *
- England, Wales and Scotland: 1 September – 20 February – Below the mean high water mark. Note duck and goose species can only be shot, below mean high water, after 31st January
- Northern Ireland: 1 September – 31 January
*Note that in England and Wales, mean high water is defined as that part of the foreshore inundated by the four ordinary tides midway between spring and neap tides. In Scotland mean high water is defined as the area lying between the high and low water marks of ordinary spring tides.
WHAT SPECIES MAY BE SHOT?
3 White-fronted goose
1 Jack snipe
1 Northern Ireland only
2 England, Wales and Scotland only
3 England and Wales (voluntary moratorium in Wales)
Note that all species of Swan found in the wild in the UK (Mute, Bewick’s, and Whooper) are protected by law and that it is illegal to shoot them.
SHOOTING ON SUNDAY AND AT NIGHT
ENGLAND AND WALES – before the passing of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, orders prohibiting the shooting of wildfowl on Sundays were made under the Protection of Birds Act 1954.
These orders have not been rescinded and so the following counties/part counties are still affected:
- Great Yarmouth County Borough
- Isle of Ely
- Leeds County Borough
- North and West Ridings of Yorkshire
There may be local restrictions on shooting at night.
SCOTLAND – Wildfowl and waders may not be shot on Sundays and on Christmas Day.
NORTHERN IRELAND – All wild birds are protected on Sundays, Christmas Day and at night (defined as commencing one hour after sunset on any day and ending one hour before sunrise the next day).
WILDFOWLING AND LEAD SHOT
Lead is a poison, and under certain conditions can dissolve in water or stomach acids releasing toxic salts: many wildfowl have been poisoned this way as they typically ingest small stones to help grind food in the gizzard and have mistakenly swallowed lead shot instead.
Using lead shot to kill wildfowl was made illegal in England in 1999, and Wales followed soon after. There are severe restrictions on the use of lead shot on most Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) wetland areas. In Scotland it is illegal to use lead shot in wetlands whatever species is being shot.
These measures were intended to stop the death of waterbirds from lead poisoning. Non-compliance is thought to be high, though, and in a 2010 survey seven in 10 of the ducks checked at game-dealers, butchers and supermarkets were killed with lead ammunition, while other surveys of shooters and shoot organisers revealed that many admitted they did not always comply with the regulations.
- It is illegal to use sound recordings (which is likely to include sounds made by digital or electronic devices) to attract birds for shooting.
- It is illegal to use live birds tethered, blinded or maimed as decoys (note that this is illegal in all forms of hunting). It is also an offence ‘to cause or permit such methods’ to be used.
- It is an offence to use ‘any mechanically propelled vehicle – including boats – in immediate pursuit of any wild bird to kill or take it’.
Page updated January 2015
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