Keep shoot­ing safe

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Game shoot­ing, no­tably grouse shoot­ing, is in the harsh glare of the anti-field­sports spotlight as never be­fore. That for­mer RSPB con­ser­va­tion di­rec­tor mark avery man­aged to garner more than 100,000 sig­na­tures on his e-pe­ti­tion call­ing for a ban on driven grouse-shoot­ing—which last week trig­gered a par­lia­men­tary ev­i­dence-gath­er­ing ses­sion ahead of a de­bate at West­min­ster on Oc­to­ber 31—should serve as a wake-up call to all those who love shoot­ing and care about the way our coun­try­side is man­aged.

There is no doubt that the shoot­ing com­mu­nity has some strong ar­gu­ments in its favour—eco­log­i­cal, so­cial and fi­nan­cial ad­van­tages, backed by ro­bust sci­ence and sta­tis­tics. How­ever, it needs to rapidly im­prove the way it com­mu­ni­cates these pos­i­tive mes­sages, in a more user-friendly and un­der­stand­able way, to a wider au­di­ence (see in­ter­view with Si­mon Hart MP, p40).

It is also es­sen­tial that shoot­ing uses its sub­stan­tial archive of sci­en­tific and anec­do­tal ev­i­dence (stud­ies at Langholm and Ot­ter­burn have shown that preda­tors have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on grouse, waders and other vul­ner­a­ble species) to re­fute the anti-shoot­ing lobby’s in­ac­cu­ra­cies more proac­tively and promptly. The shoot­ing world is great at preach­ing to the con­verted, but not nearly so good at reach­ing those who don’t have strong feel­ings ei­ther way. To achieve this, those who shoot need to be more open and en­cour­age peo­ple to visit es­tates to see for them­selves the vi­tal work that game­keep­ers do.

Fur­ther­more, those on both sides need to ac­cept that this is not a town ver­sus coun­try de­bate, as how we live on this crowded is­land has changed so dra­mat­i­cally in the past 50 years. as the late Lau­rens van der Post once in­ferred, it doesn’t mat­ter where you live—your at­ti­tude to the en­vi­ron­ment is in your mind.

The pro-shoot­ing lobby should also be pre­pared to ad­mit that, al­though it de­liv­ers im­mense ben­e­fits to the coun­try­side, it’s not squeaky clean. It’s dif­fi­cult to de­fend the il­le­gal killing of birds of prey and sloppy game­keep­ing prac­tices. The huge num­bers of reared birds that some high­bird shoots re­lease to ful­fil big bags don’t help the cause, ei­ther. How­ever, al­though the pro­tec­tion of rap­tors has en­cour­aged many species (buz­zards, red kites and pere­grines) to reach record num­bers, the fact that hen har­ri­ers re­main at such low lev­els is shoot­ing’s achilles heel.

many game­keep­ers and landown­ers are striv­ing to con­serve hen har­ri­ers, but it’s shame­ful that a hard­core few con­tinue to tar­get these birds. It’s also shame­ful that the RSPB pulled out of De­fra’s Hen Har­rier ac­tion Plan so quickly, but while these birds are be­ing il­le­gally killed, the char­ity has the mo­ral high ground.

The time has come for shoot­ing to stand up and be counted or run the risk of sleep­walk­ing into a ban through ar­ro­gance and ap­a­thy. We can­not, and should not, al­low pol­i­tics to in­flu­ence how we man­age our wildlife.

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