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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Use wildlife refuges to reduce hunting disturbance Bird Conservation

Key messages

Read our guidance on Key messages before continuing

  • Three studies from the USA and Europe found that bird densities were higher in refuges where hunting was prohibited, compared to areas with hunting. In addition, two studies found that more birds used hunting-free areas during the open season and on hunting days.
  • No studies investigated the population-level impacts of these refuges.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A site comparison study from 1940-1951 in two natural, 400 private and 13 public waterfowl refuges of wetland habitat in Illinois, USA (Bellrose 1954), found that waterfowl refuges should cover at least 400 ha if shooting is permitted. Refuges where hunting is prohibited exhibit higher waterfowl abundance (for example, duck populations increased on average by 37,075 ducks/refuge over seven years in sites where hunting became closed). Similarly, hunting-restricted refuges exhibit greater duck usage (4,010, 911 and 56 duck-days/ha over 50 days for a non-hunting refuge, a hunting refuge and a non-refuge respectively). Refuge size affects hunting impact: one smaller refuge containing higher concentrations of duck food than a larger, nearby refuge exhibits significantly lower average duck density (1,504 compared to 4,327 ducks/ha), but significantly higher hunting pressure (15 compared to 8% of the population hunted). In total, refuges cover 23,209 ha, of which 2,023 ha are open to hunting.



A study on a lake in Northern Ireland, UK, in the boreal winter of 1997-8 (Evans & Day 2002), found that significantly more wildfowl were found on a bay used as a wildlife refuge (i.e. closed to hunting) during the hunting season, compared with the closed season (average of 1,027 individuals on the lake during open season vs. 597 during the closed season). A significant increase in usage was also observed within the open season at weekends, when hunting intensity was highest, a pattern most noticeable for mallard Anas platyrhynchos and common coot Fulica atra. There was a corresponding decrease in wildfowl numbers in an area of the lake used for shooting. A total of 20 waterfowl species were recorded at the refuge, the most common being mallard, common goldeneye Bucephala clangula, tufted duck Aythya fuligula and common coot.



A controlled study from October-December in 2003 on one 10 km2 site within intensively cultivated farmland in Tauché and Sainte Blandine villages, France (Casas et al. 2009), found that northern lapwings Vanellus vanellus, golden plovers Pluvialis apricaria and little bustards Tetrax tetrax were affected by hunting activities and used hunting-free areas in response. Hunting activity increased flight probability and time spent vigilant (higher on hunting days than just before and after a hunting day), to the detriment of resting. Foraging was unaffected by hunting. The hunting-free reserve was used significantly more frequently during hunting days. Little bustards used the hunting-free reserve almost exclusively (96% of observations within hunting-free reserve). The authors suggest that reserves can mitigate the disturbance caused by hunting.


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2019) Bird Conservation. Pages 141-290 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.