THE hunting and shooting season is upon us and for the next few months Yorkshire will be the scene of a plethora of country sports. Enthusiasts of these pastimes may be tempted to snap up a choice piece of land so they can indulge in their hobby at their leisure.

However, as Philip Taylor, pictured, agricultural law and residential property expert at Pearsons & Ward in Malton explains, to be able to hunt, fish or shoot on a specific area of land or water, the owner of the land must have sporting rights.

Such sporting rights can be a lucrative stream of income for agricultural landowners – indeed the sporting rights on property like grouse moors can be more valuable than the land itself. Sporting rights can be sold separately from land, but it is not uncommon to find property on the market with sporting rights not included in the sale.

Under UK property law, actual land is what is known as a “corporeal hereditament”, that is, land which has substance. Sporting rights, on the other hand, are an “incorporeal hereditament” which means they are an intangible right in land.

The two concepts can go together so when buying or leasing land, sporting rights go with the land unless they are specifically mentioned as being excluded and are not previously reserved.

If a landowner has granted someone else the right to exercise these sporting rights, whether through gift, lease or sale, they have bestowed a profit a prendre – a right to do something on and take something from the land but without actually owning the land.

In this scenario, the sporting rights become separated from the land; it is important, therefore, when buying land with the full expectation of being able to hunt, fish or shoot to your heart’s content, that the sporting rights are actually included in the sale.

Such rights can be created in a number of ways:

  • the landowner can sell the sporting rights but keeps the land for themselves;
  • they can sell or rent out the land but specifically retain the sporting rights; or
  • they can grant a licence to exercise the sporting rights for a limited period of time only, with the rights reverting back to the landowner at the end of that time.

Given the potential value of sporting rights, when buying or selling them, it is better to put the agreement in writing as a formal deed.

This should set out exactly what rights are involved, such as:

  • what land the agreement covers;
  • what creatures can be shot, fished or hunted;
  • whether any limitations are to apply with regard to numbers;
  • what hunting, fishing or shooting equipment can be used and in what numbers; and
  • whether the proper access and parking is granted to allow the sporting rights owner to exercise their rights.

The agreement should also specify who should be responsible for rearing and preserving the livestock which are the subject of the sporting rights, who is in charge of controlling vermin that may threaten the livestock, and what restrictions should be placed on the landowner to stop them interfering in some way with the sporting rights.

There should also be consideration to what happens to the spoils from the sport. Wild animals cannot be owned while alive, only when dead. Furthermore, a landowner has qualified ownership of wild animals while they are on their land and absolute ownership of them if they die there. Granting someone sporting rights to go onto your land to shoot, fish or hunt could also grant them the right to claim the kill as their own property.

Sporting rights are a complicated concept with many a pitfall involved for the unwary, so you are strongly advised to seek expert legal advice if you are thinking of acquiring or granting such rights.

Phone Philip Taylor on 01653 692247 or email