Feathers can fly over game birds

The pheasant shooting season is now well underway and the question of who owns shot game birds is once again occupying minds across rural Dorset.

Specialist Paul Dunlop, Principal at award-winning Dorset law firm Blanchards Bailey LLP is able to clarify the law – and he has warned that it can be easy to inadvertently fall foul of the legislation.

But he also suggests that cooperation between sensible neighbouring landowners can ensure a well-run season with no disputes over ownership of fallen birds.

The pheasant shooting season in Britain this year began on October 1, 2019 and runs to February 1, 2020, with the grey and red legged partridge season having started a month earlier on September 1.

Shoots are held regularly during the season throughout Dorset, including on Cranborne Chase and near Dorchester, Alton Pancras, Stancombe, Sherborne and Bridport.

Mr Dunlop said it has been long accepted convention that once reared game birds are released into the wild they are categorised as ‘ownerless’ as they can roam anywhere – thus there can be no question of theft.

He added: “However, the question of ownership of shot birds can prove a little trickier. If a shot bird falls dead over the boundary on to neighbouring land it belongs to the neighbour, regardless as to whether it may have started off on your land.

“If the gun (the shooter) enters the neighbouring property without permission to retrieve the dead bird it would be considered a civil offence of trespass. If the gun is carrying a firearm it would be a criminal offence of armed trespass.

“Similarly, if shot game lands dead on a highway, it would belong to the owner of that highway – but if it lands on a public right of way next to or on the authorised shoot land, the gun would retain rights to it.”

Mr Dunlop, based in Blanchard Bailey’s Blandford office, added that if a wounded bird runs or falls alive on to neighbouring property and the gun or picker-up does not have authority to enter, then potentially a poaching offence could be committed.

“These are extreme examples and in Dorset we find that a sense of co-operation between neighbouring landowners and estates leads to a practical and responsible situation where a code of behaviour is established and the season runs smoothly.

“That said, we do have a wide range of experienced and skilled specialists in our growing agriculture and rural department at Blanchard Bailey who will be able answer any questions regarding game shooting law to put your mind at rest.”

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation says game shooting, no longer the preserve of the landed classes, is now an accessible sport enjoyed by people from all walks of life and bridges town and country life.

It provides recreation in the countryside, promotes bio-diversity, delivers economic benefits to help sustain a healthy rural community and leads to natural, wild and healthy game meat on tables across the county.

Eighty-strong Blanchards Bailey is a Legal 500 firm – making it one of the top firms in the South West – and is based in Blandford with offices in Poundbury, Shaftesbury and Weymouth.

The firm received unprecedented recognition in UK's leading law sector directory, the Legal 500. The annual publication, The Legal 500 2018/19, recommends the firm in a record seven specialist categories with 11 individual lawyers mentioned including all five Partners.

Blanchards Bailey also won a hat-trick of titles at the 2019 Dorset Legal Awards: Law Firm of the Year (up to 99 employees), Company Commercial Team of the Year and Private Client Team of the Year. 

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