Our position on the freehold shooting rights of game birds at Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal

Moody skies over the autumnal ruin of Fountains Abbey

We recognise that hunting is an issue that polarises people's opinions and provokes strong reactions from them. Our core concern is looking after special places so that they can be enjoyed by everyone for ever.

When is the ‘shooting season’?

Shooting of game birds such as pheasant and partridge takes place in the ‘shooting season' which starts in October and is usually finished by the end of January of the following year. 

By arrangement, shooting takes place at Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal within the water garden and abbey grounds on Fridays in November, December and January every year. The abbey and water garden are shut, but all other areas remain open as usual.

Why does the Shoot take place here?

The current situation is one the National Trust inherited following its purchase of the Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal estate from North Yorkshire County Council in 1983.

In 1966, Henry Vyner, the last private owner of the 18000 acre Studley Royal Estate placed the contents, rights, chattels and land on the open market. A part of the sales included the freehold shooting rights. These rights were purchased by a private individual who sold them on to the current owner in 1971.

What do the shooting rights mean?

Like all freeholders they have a right, in law, to shoot at any time within the respective shooting periods. This is not a unique situation and many landowners within the UK find themselves having to operate within this regime including those landowners who now manage/own land that was part of the old Studley Royal Estate. It is also worth noting that Studley Royal Estate continues to operate as an independent company and totally separate from any National Trust business or affairs.   

Could we buy back the shooting rights?

Unlike local or county councils, as a private charity, the Trust has no power to compulsory purchase or place any legal claim to a right previously sold.  

What arrangements do we have with the Shoot?

After costly legal negotiations the Trust reached an agreement, some years ago, to close the estate on Friday’s in November, December and January in an attempt to minimise the disruption to our visitors on other days and to allow the shoot to have exclusive access on that day only. Like all landowners we continue to manage the situation to the best of our ability. The closure dates are always printed in the members’ handbook and available on our website. 

Whilst we have been able to negotiate a specific day for closure in the abbey and water garden area, the Shoot can and does shoot anywhere on any day within the confines of their shooting rights. Shooting can take place on any parcel of land within their portfolio without our prior knowledge and we have no bearing or influence on the Shoot’s work.    

What are the Shoot’s responsibilities?

The Shoot manages all aspects of their operations including ‘the drive’ i.e. staffing with respect to walkers using the public footpaths outside the paying area but still within our landownership. As an independent company with freehold rights the Shoot is clearly responsible for all aspects of their work including the management of others who use the countryside.

Does the National Trust make any financial gain from the Shoot?

The National Trust takes no part in any aspect of the shoot and there is no financial gain or otherwise to the Trust. We understand that the freeholder rears both wild and open penned birds on their own land. The freeholder has the right to shoot anywhere on the estate including the Abbey and Water Gardens.