5th October 1831. Poacher’s Pocket.
Today the 1831 Game Act was published and still relevant in its aim to conserve game by having close seasons.(1)
The Act also established the need for licences, with the four main birds protected including grouse (red and black), pheasant and partridge, which were also not to be taken on Sundays and Christmas Day. (2)
One of the great issues, going back to the Middle Ages, regarding game was poaching, always regarded as an attack on property.
The early 18thc however witnessed calculated, organised raids in the forests of influential people in Hampshire and Windsor Forest.
They were also motivated by social discontent, with gangs disguised with blackened faces.
The Walpole Government probably over-reacted with the 1723 ‘Black Act’ which authorised the death penalty for over 50 different criminal offences mostly related to the outbreaks.
However the Act should be put in the context of the times after the economic collapse from the South Sea Bubble, fear of the Jacobites and social unrest.
Between 1720 and 1820 more poachers were hanged than before, especially those using fire-arms or wounding a gamekeeper.
Many capital offences were later replaced with imprisonment from 1816 and Transportation to New South Wales for 14 years, though in 1823 Robert Peel did abolish the harsh Black Act.
By 1826 man-traps were declared illegal but four years later landowners could apply for a licence for their use; not until 1861 were they finally made illegal.
Famous society gardener Gertrude Jeckyll in 1904 remarked that such ‘notices telling of dangers of man-traps were still posted outside plantations within recent date’.
Poaching was a concern of the local village ‘Bobby’ in the Victorian Age and later, with the Prevention Act 1862 giving him the right to stop anyone suspected of carrying poaching implements and no doubt to examine the poacher’s pockets.
Landowners had traditionally Right of Warren until the Ground Game Act 1880 gave tenant farmers the right to kill rabbits and hares on their land.
Poaching down the ages has always been treated more harshly than other theft with protection of game deemed more important than the right for the rustic poor to grab what they could.
Today poaching is done on an industrial scale with whole flocks of sheep disappearing overnight, but no threat of hanging or transportation.
(1) It became law on November 1st.
The open season is: Red grouse (12th August-10th December); Black Grouse (20th August-10th of December); Pheasant (1st Oct.-1st Feb.); Partridge (1st Sept-1st.Feb.).
(2) The licence and dealers’ licence was abolished in England and Wales on 1.8.2007. Although not included in the 1831 Act licences were required for woodcock and common snipe until 2007.
The Great Bustard was also protected but became extinct in the 1830.s, but later introduced. The Capercaille then extinct was re-introduced in Scotland in 1837. Brown hares were also protected.
flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred. Paul Townsend/Pics.