Gaston Febus: Livre de la chasse (1387)
Restricting access to game, designating reserved areas, protecting valued beasts from indiscriminate slaughter had already in the Middle Ages signaled the extent to which human settlements had encroached on the wild. Access was only limited in countries of dense settlement and little unproductive land, such as England. It was not a problem in underpopulated lands like Spain or eastern Europe.
Beyond the cultivated zone lay the primeval woodlands of northern Europe, offering apparently inexhaustible supplies of many raw materials including timber itself. Pigs  were driven there to fatten up in the summer. Villagers collected such food as berries  and honey there. They killed beasts and found the materials for industries like tanning, ironworks, soap and glass making. Deep within were the haunts of charcoal burners and hermits. The woods harboured wild and dangerous animals, like wolves and bears.  Medieval villagers did not buy meat from the butcher: hunting was the principal source.  When kings reserved the noble deer for their own sport and table, other animals and  birds fell to the arrows and snares of humbler folk.
Fish were no less at the mercy of the rising populations. At sea, merchant fortunes were made by the catching of herring and the preparation of salted and smoked fish. Towards  the Arctic, sailors hunted for sealskins and walrus ivory. Inland, fish were taken in rivers and fishponds specially stocked on great estates. Gradually the measureless reserves  began to show signs of depletion. Efforts had to be made to reorganize the economy,  raise animals for meat, use stone instead of timber and price hunting out of everyman's  reach. So hunting became more discriminating, more a sport reserved for those who  cultivated its rituals and a new kind of relationship between men and beasts. It ceased to  be the normal counterpart to rural society.
In her Jubilee address of 1887 Queen Victoria would comment that 'among other marks  of the spread of enlightenment amongst my subjects' she had noticed in particular, 'with  real pleasure, the growth of more humane feelings towards the lower animals'.
However, hunting presented a much trickier issue.  Indeed it was only in 1869, when the historian E. A. Freeman wrote a famous article attacking fox-hunting, that the modern agitation against the sport as cruel to the fox really got under way.  It is odd that it did not  start much earlier, since most people had long known that hunters, far from trying to  keep down foxes, which was the overt objective, were in fact carefully preserving them.
Fox-hunting, although originally regarded as a socially inferior activity to deer-hunting, had gained steadily in popularity with the gentry during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, particularly when deer grew scarcer and hare-coursing was impeded by enclosures. William Harrison observed in 1577 that foxes would have been 'utterly destroyed ... many years agone' if gentlemen had not protected them to 'hunt and have  pastime withal'; and Robert Reyce commented in 1618 that in Suffolk the fox would have  been extinct if it had not been protected by the gentry for the sake of necessary warlike exercise 'against the time of a foreign invasion'. Indeed, as early as 1539 Robert Pye had informed Thomas Cromwell that foxes could easily be wiped out, if only the gentry would allow it; foxhounds, he added, did more harm to farmers' sheep and chickens than did  foxes.
It was still possible in 1669 for John Worlidge to urge that, if foxes were hunted at breeding-time, they could be eliminated altogether; and regular payments were made by parish authorities to those who produced the carcasses of such vermin. But by the beginning of the eighteenth century it had become common to preserve fox cubs, to  import foxes from adjacent counties, to plant coverts for their shelter and even to chase 'bagged' foxes (that is, those brought along in a sack to be hunted).   Landlords preferred  to pay compensation to farmers for the losses to their lambs and chickens, rather than give up the sport. In due course vulpicide (the secret killing of the fox) became one of the  greatest moral offences a country gentleman could commit. The owners of pheasant preserves waged a private war on foxes, but it was only an accredited huntsman who  would dare openly claim payment from the parish for foxes' heads.
This artificial preservation of foxes by fox- hunters did not stop the judges of King's Bench under Lord Mansfield in 1786 from reiterating the traditional doctrine that no action  for trespass lay against fox-hunters who followed their quarry onto someone else's land, because the fox, unlike the hare, was a noxious beast which all men were at liberty to pursue and kill wherever they could; hunters could therefore chase across the country at large, regardless of who owned it.
But non-lawyers found it increasingly difficult to think of fox-hunting as the conscientious  discharge of the painful duty of pest control; and by the later eighteenth century a small  group of critics had begun to attack it on the grounds of its cruelty.