Hunting management in relation to profitability aims: red-legged partridge hunting in central Spain
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Game management is widely implemented in Spain, affecting more than 70 % of land cover. Management intensity may be linked to the financial aims of hunting estates, but no study of these aspects has been developed in Spain, where commercial hunting is common. Through interviews with game managers and field surveys, we quantified physical and economic traits, management techniques, and hunting methods in a sample of 59 small-game hunting estates located in south-central Spain (where red-legged partridge hunting has the highest socioeconomic importance in the country). We compared non-commercial estates (aimed for leisure, managed mainly by local hunting societies) and commercial estates (aimed at financial benefit); among the latter, we also assessed “intensive” estates (a special category of commercial estates licensed to release farm-reared partridges without temporal or numerical limits throughout the hunting season). Commercial estates had more intensive management, including more and larger partridge releases, higher density of supplementary feeders and more intensive predator control. Thus, any positive or negative effects on biodiversity of these management techniques would be higher in commercial than in non-commercial estates. Commercial estates also retained more natural vegetation, which may help to enhance the landscape and biodiversity value of farmland in central Spain. On the other hand, differences in management and hunting styles were most marked between intensive and other type of estates (both commercial and non-commercial); this indicates that intensive estates are qualitatively different from other small-game estates, both ecologically (hunting based on releases and driven shooting) and economically (higher inputs and outputs). It would be desirable to find ways to quantify the environmental or social costs and benefits of different management techniques, and integrate them in the economics of hunting estates.
KeywordsAlectoris rufa Farm-reared partridge releases Hunting pressure Predator control Game commercialization
Hunting is an important socioeconomic activity, practiced traditionally by many people over wide areas either for recreation or subsistence (Mileson 2009; Reboussin 1991; Rose 2001) and currently including an important economic dimension (Bernabéu 2002; Chardonet et al. 2002; Fontoura 1992; Rao et al. 2010). Additionally, hunting interacts with local biodiversity both through hunting activities and through game management practices, which are employed broad-scale, and therefore fulfills also an ecological function. Game management commonly implemented in Europe involves controversial practices, such as predator control or releasing captive-reared animals (e.g., Barbanera et al. 2010; Fletcher et al. 2010; Reynolds and Tapper 1996), as well as habitat management which can facilitate the preservation of natural ecosystems and improve the ecological value of anthropogenic ones (Duckworth et al. 2003; Robertson et al. 2001; Tapper 1999).
Game management intensity (and thus its effects on the environment) may vary with the economics of hunting estates (Sotherton et al. 2009). More intensive game management is sometimes linked to estates that aim to make financial profit from hunting (commercial estates), because game managers on these estates may try to boost the numbers of game species to increase income and reinvest some of this income in management. Additionally, different forms of hunting may generate different financial profit for managers and lead to variation in management intensity. For instance, in Britain, driven red-grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) shooting (where hunters remain in blinds while the grouse are driven by beaters walking towards them) leads to larger bags of grouse, has a higher market value and involves more intensive management than walked-up shooting (Thirgood et al. 2000).
In Spain, hunting is an important socioeconomic activity, with more than one million hunters (FACE 2005), and attracts more than 70,000 foreign hunters each year (Mulero 1991; Rengifo, 2008). Hunting regimes in Spain changed at the end of the 1960s, from mostly open access hunting to the current situation where approximately 75 % of Spain (~350,000 km2) is divided into hunting estates managed privately by hunter associations or individual managers (Grau 1973; López-Ontiveros 1986; MARM 2006). These private game estates may be managed with the objective of obtaining financial benefit from the hunting rights. Hunting currently constitutes a major income in some rural areas (Bernabéu 2002) and seems to be an expanding economic activity (Garrido 2009). Small-game hunting, particularly of rabbits (Oryctolagus cunniculus) and red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa), is of particular relevance numerically and socioeconomically (MARM 2006; Ríos-Saldaña 2010). However, populations of these two species have strongly decreased in recent decades (Blanco-Aguiar 2007; Delibes-Mateos et al. 2009). As a result, small-game management is often and increasingly associated with the release of captive-reared animals to maintain harvest following the decline in wild stock (Blanco-Aguiar et al. 2008; Delibes-Mateos et al. 2008a). Since early 1990s, some red-legged partridge commercial hunting estates may even ask for a special permit to release farm-reared birds without temporal or numerical limits throughout the hunting season (referred in Spanish law as “cotos intensivos de caza”, i.e., “intensive hunting estates”). This variation in approach (from non-commercial to commercial hunting, and from wild to farm-reared stock) is probably linked to differences in game management or the most frequently used forms of hunting, but such information is scarce. However, knowledge about these issues may be useful to understand the extent to which game management practices support the commercial objectives of estates and the consequences that commercialization of hunting may have for the conservation of nature.
In this paper, we assess variation in characteristics, hunting styles or pressure, and game management between red-legged partridge hunting estates with different commercial objectives as a basis to discuss the potential contribution of each type of hunting to the conservation of biodiversity and rural economies. We specifically focused on red-legged partridge hunting in central Spain, which is the main hunting area in this country (Ríos-Saldaña 2010).
Mean ± SD (sample size in brackets) values of the variables used to characterize small-game estates in central Spain, and results of tests for statistical differences among groups
Physical and economic characteristics
F (* Chi2)
81.5 ± 77.9 (14) a
18.0 ± 25.0 (37) b
34.8 ± 15.9 (8) a
% agricultural habitats
73.5 ± 25.3 (13) a
39.0 ± 24.7 (34) b
47.8 ± 33.4 (6) a
% annual crops
44.6 ± 25.8 (13) a
32.6 ± 22.6 (34) a
32.4 ± 23.4 (6) a
% permanent crops
28.8 ± 18.5 (13) a
6.5 ± 13.0 (34) b
15.3 ± 15.9 (6) a
% natural vegetation (grasslands or scrubland)
20.1 ± 21.0 (13) a
42.1 ± 21.8 (34) b
44.6 ± 27.9 (6) ab
1.3 ± 2.5 (13) a
11.1 ± 24.4 (34) a
3.4 ± 3.3 (6) a
% land that belonged to the owner of the hunting rights
20.4 ± 36 (13) a
68.7 ± 47 (23) b
45.6 ± 43 (8) ab
% estates with agricultural use
% estates with livestock use
% estates with forestry use
Partridge abundance estimate (Partridges/observation point)
0.78 ± 0.79 (13) a
2.40 ± 3.50 (34) a
1.61 ± 1.19 (6) a
Mean ± SD (sample size in brackets) values of the variables used to characterize small-game estates in central Spain, and results of tests for statistical differences among groups
F (* Chi2)
Partridges released per km2
1.6 ± 6. (14) a
15.6 ± 34.1 (37) b
2142.1 ± 1972.2 (8) c
Number of years (considering the last 9 years prior to the survey) in which releases were employed
0.7 ± 2.4 (14) a
2.1 ± 3.3 (37) a
9.0 ± 0.0 (8) b
Density of gamekeepers (gamekeeper/km2)
0.01 ± 0.01 (14) a
0.14 ± 0.17 (37) b
0.11 ± 0.07 (8) b
Investment in gamekeepers (k€)
12.8 ± 14.2 (12) a
19.3 ± 43.6 (33) b
74.1 ± 57.9 (8) c
0.78 ± 0.8 (13) a
1.64 ± 4.3 (34) a
2.69 ± 2.3 (8) b
11.4 ± 31.1 (13) a
15.9 ± 18.3 (33) b
17.0 ± 15.3 (8) b
0.05 ± 0.16 (14) a
5.3 ± 5.6 (36) b
29.6 ± 35.6 (8) c
Supplementary water points/km2
0.47 ± 0.9 (14) a
6.4 ± 10.7 (34) b
11.7 ± 11.8 (8) c
% estates with crops for game species
Mean ± SD (sample size in brackets) values of the variables used to characterize small-game estates in central Spain, and results of tests for statistical differences among groups (GLM tests were used for continuous variables, Chi-square tests for proportions). Similar letters indicate categories that were not significantly different through Tukey LSMeans comparisons
F (* Chi2)
% estates offering only driven shooting
% estates offering driven and walked-up shooting
% estates offering only walked-up shooting, or walked-up shooting and hunting with decoy
Driven shooting days/year
0.7 ± 1.5 (14) a
1.5 ± 3.6 (33) a
50.6 ± 32.3 (8) b
Walked-up shooting days/year
8.78 ± 5.26 (14) a
9.43 ± 8.49 (32) a
13.14 ± 14.8 (8) a
Decoy shooting days/year
7.61 ± 11.22 (14) a,b
3.06 ± 6.08 (32) b
16.7 ± 15.8 (8) a
Number of hunters/km2 and day
1.23 ± 0.22 (14) a
1.25 ± 0.14 (34) a
0.26 ± 0.30 (8) b
Annual hunting pressure (Hunters/km2/yr)
18.6 ± 19.0 (14) a
16.8 ± 14.5 (34) a
16.8 ± 9.8 (8) a
18.2 ± 9.9 (13) a
39.0 ± 33.8 (33) a
1270.1 ± 990.0 (8) b
% partridges harvested in driven shooting
16.7 ± 38.9 (12) a
23.7 ± 41.4 (30) a
95.4 ± 5.6 (6) b
Non-commercial estates (n = 14); this included estates identified legally as “social” and “private” ones where the stated aim was recreational hunting by a group of friends
Commercial estates with restricted releases (n = 37); this included private estates where the stated aim was to obtain economic benefit from the hunting rights, but without an administrative permit for unrestricted releases
Commercial estates with the “intensive” legal label, and thus no restriction on releases (n = 8)
For simplicity, we hereafter call these types “non-commercial” (1), “commercial-1” (2) and “commercial-2” (3).
We tested whether each of the variables mentioned above varied among the three types of estates using GLM for quantitative variables (log transformed or arc-sine transformed in the case of habitat variables to normalize the variables), and chi-square tests for proportions. Significant pair-wise differences among each pair of categories were evaluated through Tukey tests of LSMeans. Analyses were performed with SAS 9.2.
Physical and economic characteristics
Game management characteristics
The intensity of all management techniques increased significantly from non-commercial to commercial-1 to commercial-2 estates (Table 2). As expected, this was particularly marked in terms of the frequency and intensity of partridge releases. The number of partridges released per km2 was 10 times higher in commercial-1 than in non-commercial estates, and 1,000 times higher in commercial-2 estates. Moreover, the frequency of releases also increased from non-commercial to commercial-1 to commercial-2 estates (where partridges were released every year). Similar significant gradients were found for the number of feeding and water points per km2. Additionally, similar gradients but with less marked differences were found for the density and investment in gamekeepers, the number of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) or magpies (Pica pica) killed, and the proportion of estates that used game crops as a management tool. Significant differences were mainly found between commercial-2 estates and the other two types, except for density of gamekeepers, where differences were found mainly between non-commercial and both types of commercial estates (Table 2).
Hunting methods, pressure, and hunting bags
There were also major differences in relation to the methods of hunting used in each estate type (Table 3). A large majority of non-commercial and commercial-1 estates did not carry driven shooting at all, whereas this was the most common method in commercial-2 estates. The amount of decoy shooting offered was also significantly larger in commercial-2 estates but was also important in non-commercial ones. The density of hunters was significantly lower in commercial-2 estates, but because the number of hunting days per year was also much higher there, annual hunting pressure was very similar among the three types of estates. Annual harvest was 30–70 times larger in commercial-2 estates, where driven shooting was more common. Annual harvest was twice as large in commercial-1 as in non-commercial estates, although this was not statistically significant (Table 3).
Our study demonstrates that there are differences in the physical characteristics, management practices, and style of hunting offered between estates managed for commercial and non-commercial reasons: commercial estates are associated with a higher proportion of natural habitats and more intensive management and are able to offer greater numbers of birds to be shot, although differences for the latter when excluding estates with no restrictions for captive-reared bird releases were not significant. Additionally, differences in management between commercial and non-commercial estates were much less marked when excluding these “intensive” estates, which are thus markedly different from the other estates. We discuss these results below.
Commercial vs non-commercial estates
Game bird shooting can be a primary source of income, as occurs with grouse shooting in some areas of the uplands in the UK (Sotherton et al. 2009). In contrast, in our study area, more than 85 % of even the most intensive estates had agriculture too, which indicates that hunting there is generally a complementary activity to other land uses (Martínez et al. 2002).
In general, game management was more intensive in commercial than in non-commercial small-game estates, and this was true for most variables even when excluding intensive estates. The management variables that were more frequently employed in commercial estates as compared to non-commercial estates were predator control, partridge releases, supplementary feeders, and water points. Commercial estates also employed more gamekeepers per unit surface. These differences are not surprising, as all these management techniques represent a high economic investment for managers (both in infrastructure, salaries, or direct expenses as food or captive-reared birds) and are less likely to occur in those estates that do not produce economic profit. These results suggest that any positive or negative effects on biodiversity of these management techniques would be higher in commercial than non-commercial estates. It is increasingly accepted that farm-reared partridge releases damage biodiversity conservation: supplemental stocking practices may threaten the integrity of the wild partridge population gene pool (Barbanera et al. 2010; Blanco-Aguiar et al. 2008) or may pose a risk to wild populations by introducing parasites (Villanúa et al. 2008) which can threaten other species of conservation concern such as the little bustard (Tetrax tetrax; Villanúa et al. 2007). Predator control is a source of social conflict when illegally implemented and has caused a reduction in the geographic range of several endangered predators (e.g., Rodríguez and Delibes 2004; Villafuerte et al. 1998; Virgós and Travaini 2005), but it may have positive effects on other species (Fletcher et al. 2010). Supplementary food or water provided for partridges may have also positive effects on other species (authors unpublished data), although this has been scantly studied.
Additionally, our results indicate that areas managed for commercial hunting have more scrubland or uncultivated grasslands compared to non-commercial estates, where most of the area was occupied by farmland. Scrubland and uncultivated grasslands are positively associated with higher natural value of farmland in Mediterranean Spain (Olivero et al. 2011). In addition, game crops, which are known to increase biodiversity in farmland (Parish and Sotherton 2004), were more common in commercial estates. Hunting has been claimed to be associated with the retention of natural habitats (Otero 2000; Duckworth et al. 2003; Robertson et al. 2001). Our data do not allow us to ascertain whether hunting activities have directly contributed to the retention of natural habitats in small-game estates in Spain. However, our results indicate that managing for commercial hunting may have advantages over non-commercial estates in terms of farmland habitat quality. Moreover, land property and hunting rights were more often tied in commercial than in non-commercial estates. In the latter, land ownership was highly fragmented, often not including the owner of the hunting rights, and management decisions about land use including hunting resources are often made by different persons there. In contrast, the owner of the hunting rights in commercial estates was also often the landowner, which suggests that retention of natural habitats in private hunting lands might be a consequence of game management instead of just a reflection of where commercial estates are located, but more research is needed to confirm this.
The more intensive management in commercial estates, however, did not necessarily lead to higher abundance of wild stocks or higher annual harvest, and hunting pressure was similar between non-commercial and commercial estates. Annual harvest was significantly higher in intensive estates, which reflects the markedly higher investment in releases (Table 2; see Díaz-Fernández et al. 2012). The fact that summer abundance in intensive estates was similar to that observed in other estates despite the much higher level of released partridges also must reflect the extremely high mortality of released birds (Gortázar et al. 2000; Alonso et al. 2005). Non-intensive commercial estates tended to have higher annual harvest and summer partridge abundances (the highest densities were observed in those types of estates) than non-commercial ones, but differences were not statistically significant, probably due to the high variance of both variables. Further studies should investigate the relationship between abundance and harvest quotas to assess the sustainability of wild partridge populations under the different management regimes.
In summary, our results suggest that non-commercial hunting, due to fewer releases, could contribute to the conservation of the genetic pool of wild partridge populations in Spain. However, commercial hunting was also associated with more natural vegetation within the farmland matrix, suggesting positive relationships between hunting commercialization and biodiversity. Furthermore, commercial estates generate more jobs than non-commercial estates, and could thus have social benefits in rural communities (Bernabéu 2002; Caro et al. 2011). It is now urgent to determine the cost-efficiency of management techniques to identify management to promote the optimal combination of social, economic, and conservation benefits of hunting.
Intensive vs non-intensive estates
Administratively labeled “intensive” estates were indeed more intensive in their management than other commercial estates. Most striking differences related to both the frequency and number of partridge releases, but intensive estates also invested proportionally more in the use of supplementary feeders and water points, as well as in growing crops devoted to game cover. This is not surprising because (1) supplementary food and water are considered necessary to improve the short-term survival in inexperienced recently released partridges (Gortázar et al. 2000); and (2) feeders and watering points create “attraction points” to retain released partridges linked to the estate, reducing dispersal, and are also useful as medication points to control diseases associated with farm-reared partridges (Villanúa et al. 2008). The high densities of captive-reared released birds in intensive estates probably attract carnivores, which are a primary cause of death in recently released partridges (Alonso et al. 2005), which may explain why more foxes were killed on intensive estates than on the other two types of estates (either because there are more foxes or because higher effort is made to control this mortality factor for released birds). The higher level of magpie control in intensive units is however surprising, as these corvids are usually killed because they prey on partridge eggs (Díaz-Ruiz et al. 2010) and consequently do not present a risk for released birds. This suggests that there is a culture of controlling any potential predator as an index of perceived good management that may be not necessarily linked to increasing profitability (authors, unpblished data).
Intensive estates were also different from others in relation to hunting styles. Driven shooting was the main method of hunting partridges there, but secondary on the other two types of estates. It has been suggested that driven shooting is more harmful for wild partridge populations than walked-up shooting (Buenestado et al. 2009), because this form of hunting may be associated with higher disturbance, although the evidence for this is lacking. Intensive estates also offered a much higher number of decoy shooting days than the other estates. Hunting with decoys is controversial because it may interfere with breeding. It would be necessary to know whether birds hunted with decoys in intensive estates are potential breeders or captive-reared released birds and, thus, the potential impact of this hunting method on wild populations.
The number of birds harvested was notably higher in intensive estates, suggesting that income generated on these estates is higher. Driven grouse shooting in Britain is estimated to generate roughly 10 times the revenue of walked-up shooting (Sotherton et al. 2009), although it is offset to some extent by the cost of employing higher number of gamekeepers and the associated management carried out. Expenditure in intensive estates in central Spain was also much higher than in non-intensive estates for the same reasons. What is now needed is to compare the cost-revenue ratio and the variation in these measures among non-intensive and intensive units.
At present, there are still very few intensive game estates in central Spain (3 %; Ríos-Saldaña 2010), but their economic and social impact could be very high, at least judging from hunting bags or jobs created, and their numbers could thus increase as a way to contribute to rural development. However, our results suggest that this industrialization of hunting is linked to a marked increase in the use of controversial management practices and could lead to conflicts over land management in these areas.
Increasingly, there is pressure to develop incentives and support schemes that promote management practices which provide effective conservation and social benefits and enhance employment and economic growth. In order to inform such policies, more work is needed to quantify the externalities (environmental or social costs and benefits) of different management techniques and to integrate them in the economics of hunting estates (Hennart 1986). For example, hunting estates with conservation and social benefits (e.g., those promoting employment and financial benefits but associated with environmental benefits through preservations of wild stocks and/or natural habitats) could benefit from tax relief or be eligible for financial support through and accreditation scheme were they demonstrate their social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Further studies (including socioeconomic ones) should be implemented to determine the feasibility and acceptability of such schemes and, thus, their efficiency in promoting conservation-friendly hunting and game management.
This work was supported by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development through project HUNT (212160, FP7-ENV-2007-1), Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología (CGL2008-04282/BOS) and the Consejería de Agricultura of Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (JCCM). Additionally, this paper uses partial data from a project funded by the Fundación Fauna y Flora. S. Diaz-Fernandez had a predoctoral grant jointly financed by the European Social Fund and by JCCM, in the framework of the Operational Programme PRINCET 2005-2010. M. Delibes-Mateos is currently holding a Juan de la Cierva research contract awarded by the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación and the European Social Fund. We thank all game managers for their collaboration, and ADEMAC and the Asociación de cotos de caza menor Sierra de Alcaraz-Campo de Montiel for facilitating this collaboration with game managers. We thank Steve Redpath, Mick Marquiss, Justin Irvine, and two anonymous referees for useful comments on the manuscript.
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