On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) voted by a 3.8% majority to leave the European Union (EU). While the result of the referendum is clear, the implications are not. David Cameron has stepped down, and it is up to the new prime minister, Theresa May to negotiate the terms of divorce with Europe. It is as yet unknown when the withdrawal process will be formally started and it is possible that a general election may be called first, with the potential for further leadership change. It is also unknown what sort of relationship the UK will seek with the EU and what concessions the EU is prepared to offer. The political, social and economic implications are significant and it is possible that the period of uncertainty will last for years, affecting trade, growth and investment. The very future of the United Kingdom itself is also in doubt and it is no longer inconceivable that we may need to redraw our maps in the near future to show an independent Scotland, a united Ireland and a little England.
The CIC is an organisation that promotes the conservation of wildlife through sustainable hunting, something which as far as we are aware, did not feature at all in the Brexit or post-Brexit debates which mainly focused on the economic, cultural and political implications. We prefer not to contribute to the already vast array of opinions from economists, political scientists, governments and various political commentators on Brexit and its potential implications. Nor do we wish to add to the controversy by taking a side – our members are united in the cause of sustainable hunting, but are entitled to hold a variety of diverse opinions on Brexit and any other political issue. Nevertheless, we recognise that a seismic political shift has occurred in Europe and that this may well to some extent affect hunting in a way that we cannot precisely or safely predict. It is uncontroversial to say that we are in a period of uncertainty and we thought it worthwhile to have a look at hunting in the EU and some of the uncertainty that it now faces.
Hunting in the EU
Hunting in the EU is affected by a number of ordinances and directives. In terms of conservation, the most important of these are the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive (the nature directives) which aim to protect flora, fauna and habitats and maintain biodiversity. Sustainable hunting is recognised as a legitimate conservation activity, however the nature directives set limitations on the species that may be hunted and the hunting methods that may be used. Several member states also impose stricter protections than specified in the directives. One of the great conservation achievements of the EU is The Natura 2000 network of protected areas that covers 18% of the land 6% of marine EU territory and includes core resting and breeding sites for threatened species. Some sites are fully protected national parks, however most of the areas are privately owned and the approach to conservation focuses on sustainable use and working with communities. Hunting is an accepted activity on several Natura 2000 sites and member states are required to ensure that any activities are sustainable.
Logistically, the Firearms Directive regulates the acquisition, possession and movement of weapons within the EU and the Firearms Regulation the movement of weapons between the EU and third countries. The ownership of weapons requires a balancing of freedoms with security concerns, however, the EU recognises that the ownership of guns by law abiding hunters does not necessarily jeopardise its activities to combat the illegal arms trade. Many readers will hold an EU Firearms Pass (EFP) which simplifies the process of moving guns across borders. The gun control laws of individual member states still apply and a firearm or accessory that is not legal in the receiving state cannot legally cross a border, even with an EFP. The UK also requires a UK visitors pass in addition to an EFP. It is likely that gun ownership and transport across borders will be the subject of heavier regulation in the near future, however this is due to the threat of terrorism rather than Brexit.
Other relevant EU level directives include the Civil Aviation Security Regulation, which controls the transport of ammunition in aircraft, the Pet Regulation, which contains provisions for the movement of hunting dogs across EU borders and the Wildlife Trade Regulations which incorporate the requirements of CITES into EU law. Hunters that sell small amounts of wild game meat to individuals or retailers are currently exempted from regulations under the Animal By‑Products Regulation.
Hunting after Brexit
In the UK, there is no single law that regulates hunting, however provisions in the Game Act 1931, Game Licences Act 1860, Protection of Animals Act 1911, Protection of Badgers Act 1992, Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 and Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 must at a minimum comply with EU Law. Whether or not the UK will still have to implement the requirements of the EU directives after Brexit is still uncertain and will depend on what the EU demands for free access to the common market. However, even if the UK is free from EU regulation, this does not mean that it will do away with its conservation and hunting laws or not pass laws that are harmonious with EU standards.
Historically, the UK played an active and significant role in the development of EU regulations and was a strong voice for liberalisation, the reduction of regulation and red tape and enhancing trade. The UK’s influence also affected the stance the EU took when negotiating international treaties and it contrasts with more protectionist voices in the EU. This influence has been lost. The CIC will not try to predict how this will affect the future policies of the EU. It is possible that without the UK, the EU will become more protectionist and regulation will increase, however it is also possible that, in order to avoid other members leaving, the EU will drop or curtail its goal of ever closer Union, become more liberal and leave more regulation up to individual member states. Either way, while the loss of Britain is significant, the implications for hunting are still unclear.
Not just in Europe, but worldwide the area of land managed for wildlife exceeds the area managed for limited use national parks. Many of these areas depend on the revenue from hunting for their economic sustainability. Trophy hunting has played a significant role in the conservation of endangered species including Black and While Rhinos in Southern Africa, Argali in Mongolia, Bighorn Sheep in North America, and Markhor and Urial in Pakistan and Tajikistan. Populations of threatened species that are not hunted also benefit from trophy hunting in that it encourages the conservation of habitat and provides funds to invest in conservation. In the short term, the weaker Euro and significantly weaker Sterling mean that hunting overseas is more expensive for Europeans on both sides of the channel. Higher costs as well as economic uncertainly and decreased confidence may mean that hunts are delayed or cancelled. The associated loss of revenue has implications for conservation efforts.
Another threat to sustainable hunting comes from organised and well-funded animal welfare organisations that oppose any hunting activity regardless of sustainably, almost invariably stigmatising hunters as part of their campaigns. There are currently concerted efforts in place to ban the import of trophies into Europe on the spurious grounds that this will assist in conservation. Politicians on both sides of the channel are about to start a highly complex set of negotiations in which any concession given to any side could well be politically difficult. There is a risk that in times of economic uncertainty, governments will resort to popular measures that are not based in fact and not necessarily good for conservation. The CIC will work with its members and various partners to keep decision makers informed and strengthen conservation in Europe and worldwide.