Hunting is embedded in social structures and cultural patterns and has a key role in conflicts over natural resource management around the world. The EU-funded ‘Hunting for sustainability’ (HUNT) project has assessed the social, cultural, economic and ecological functions and impacts of hunting across a range of contexts. Project team members assessed the economic, cultural and social importance of hunting in various in-depth case studies. These case studies spanned several countries, in Scandinavia, southern Europe and East Africa, and analysed the institutions governing local hunting and how these impact on the conservation of biodiversity. They found hunting is a widespread but highly diverse activity with many functions and in order to understand its impact we need to take account of the, cultural, economic and institutional as well as ecological role it plays: in other words it is necesary to consider the role of hunting in society if policies for conservation are to be effective. The impact of hunting in each of the areas that were studied varied, depending on the social and institutional context: i.e the factors that motivated and regulated hunting. The results indicated that there are both negative and positive consequences for biodiversity depending on the hunting governance system. Despite moral and economic obstacles, many of the case studies showed potentially beneficial impacts of hunting when well managed. In fact, there is evidence that in many cases, hunting goals are similar to conservation goals and therefore best practice in hunting can bring about positive results in an ecosystem. The findings from the HUNT project can therefore be used to structure debate and provide a common platform of objective opinion and shared knowledge on which relevant and pertinent decisions can be made.