British Wildlife Law Before the American Revolution: Lessons from the Past

Early legislation may excite the condescending interest ·that Dr. Johnson directed toward a dog walking on its hind legs: “It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” British wildlife law, however, merits more respect. As long ago as the Middle Ages, man’s appetite for meat endowed legislators with at least an ambling competence at wildlife management. Nor has the passage of time made their efforts wholly irrelevant. Early methods of controlling habitat, for example, may still be appropriate since historical change has not altered the needs of animals as it has those of men. This is not to say that within the bestiary of early British law there does not run many a droll species of regulation, amusing only because of its ludicrous appearance. Indeed, within the following discussion of the goals and methods of those laws, a kind of carnival fever may appear at times to have overtaken the legislators. But such are the parallels between early problems and those faced today that in the end, to a surprising degree, the stock of old laws can still provide exemplary service.