Keep shooting safe
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.