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#30 Poaching in the South West: The Berkeley Case

by Steve Mills

This pamphlet concentrates on some famous (indeed infamous) cases in the South West of England. It examines the issues behind the ‘poaching wars’ as well as introducing the combatants, their weapons and their tactics. We shall also see how the poaching wars split families, divided communities and cost some their lives; even though many still felt that the risks were worth it.

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Poaching is known in some quarters as the 2nd oldest profession and defined as the taking of wild animals without the landowner's consent. Here lies a significant problem: how could a landowner own an animal which happens to be present on his land? The Bible stated that God had provided a commonwealth for all, but landowners felt they had inherited rights, passed down through generations, giving them alone the privileged to hunt game. This was the central argument that drove, during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, a class war in the British countryside. In some areas this still continues today.

Those who poached, whether they took game for the pot or to sell, were in direct competition with the landowners. Both sides used violence, guile and confederates. Large poaching gangs would come into armed conflict with small armies of well-paid gamekeepers.

This pamphlet concentrates on some famous (indeed infamous) cases in the South West of England. It examines the issues behind the ‘poaching wars’ as well as introducing the combatants, their weapons and their tactics. We shall also see how the poaching wars split families, divided communities and cost some their lives; even though many still felt that the risks were worth it.

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