The Game Laws

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - MY ANCESTOR WAS A GAMEKEEPER -

Game­keep­ers had the un­en­vi­able task of help­ing to en­force the Game Laws which pro­tected the in­creas­ing num­bers of game pre­serves from poach­ers. Dur­ing the mid-18th cen­tury, poach­ers started us­ing firearms to kill game and the laws were con­se­quently tight­ened up to pun­ish them with tougher sen­tences. From 1770, night­time poach­ers could be sen­tenced to six months in prison, and from 1803, any poacher who re­sisted ar­rest with arms faced the death sen­tence. Un­der a fur­ther Act of 1816, even un­armed men caught tres­pass­ing with a net could be trans­ported. By 1827, poach­ing crimes ac­counted for one-sev­enth of all crim­i­nal con­vic­tions in Eng­land.

From 1831, the day­time killing of game (not rab­bits) with­out a cer­tifi­cate was pu­n­ish­able by a £5 fine. Any­one tres­pass­ing dur­ing the day in search of game, rab­bits, snipe, wood­cock, quail or landrail could be fined £2. The Game Laws were ex­tremely un­pop­u­lar with labour­ers, par­tic­u­larly the Poach­ing Pre­ven­tion Act of 1862. This con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion gave the po­lice greater pow­ers to search any­one sus­pected of poach­ing or of hav­ing a gun, snares or a net to kill game; these could be con­fis­cated from con­victed poach­ers. The law was also used to pros­e­cute peo­ple for mi­nor thefts such as tak­ing fire­wood or turnips from land. As late as 1915, the penalty for night poach­ing was three months’ im­pris­on­ment for a first of­fence and seven years for a third. In 2011, the Poach­ing Pre­ven­tion Act was re­pealed in Scot­land, but is still on the statute book in Eng­land and Wales.

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