In recent years field sports - hunting, shooting and fishing - have become one of the most hotly contested of pastimes in Britain. Shooting, hunting and even angling are now regarded as morally dubious or abhorrent; indeed, hunting with hounds in its classic form and hare coursing have recently been banned in Britain. Yet for an older generation hunting, whether foxes, hares or deer, or shooting pheasant, grouse or partridge, were quintessentially English activities which the rich exercised and to which the middle classes aspired. But if one separates moral and political emotion from historical reality, what do we actually know about the history of field sports? How did their practice evolve? What effect did their pursuit have on the countryside? Who were the people who committed so much time, money and enthusiasm to the pursuit of animals and birds? Surprisingly, perhaps, this book is the first attempt to offer a proper historical perspective on the subject of field sports in England.
Ranging widely through a variety of distinct sports dedicated to the pursuit of all sorts of wildlife, from foxes, deer, hares and otters to game birds, wildfowl and salmon, it discusses the involvement and participation of royalty, industrial plutocrats, the middle classes and even the working classes in sports. In a series of readable and accessible essays, handsomely illustrated, the authors, each expert in their subject, make a case for the study of sports by historians, showing how their history impinges on the history of the countryside and environment, as well as on broader currents in the modern social history of England.
The editor, Richard Hoyle is Professor of Rural History at the University of Reading. He serves as editor of Agricultural History Review. He was a British Academy Research Fellow in 2004-6.