We will survive
Boar sausages, Brexit and new approaches to game shooting: the chief executive of the Countryside Alliance predicts how rural life will be in 2037
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, considers the next 20 years in the countryside
IWILL never forget walking with a coachload of friends into Hyde Park and the largest crowd any of us had ever been part of. In that moment, on July 10, 1997, we realised that here, under the banner of the newly formed Countryside Alliance, we were not just a few farmers from north Devon, but part of a huge political force.
Twenty years ago, we couldn’t have envisioned much of what has happened to the countryside, although some things were, unfortunately, predictable. The obsession of Labour backbenchers with a hunting ban was always a given, but perhaps less predictable were the huge Labour majorities that made the ban possible. Social change driven by a decrease in employment on the land and an increase in the demand for housing were probably inevitable, however, who could have predicted foot-and-mouth, the mad obsession with HS2 or Brexit?
We do have reasons to be cheerful, however. The Hunting Act 2004 may have been the classic example of a bad law passed for bad reasons, but the effect has been extraordinary support for hunting; its structure remains rock solid, to the dismay of opponents. Game shooting has entered a second golden age, with demand stimulating economic growth. Such popularity is not without its challenges and, just as in Edwardian times, it can tend towards excess, but selfregulation and ensuring sustainability are not the worst problems to have.
Where will the next 20 years take us? One major challenge is to make the argument for the management of species to a population increasingly obsessed with individual animals and for the management of the countryside to people who, increasingly, see human intervention as unnatural.
These trends have led conservation charities to become wary of knee-jerk reactions by their members to necessary practices. Culling deer or foxes might be necessary, but conservation bodies are balancing the potential financial and PR costs against the benefits for biodiversity, which, in turn, make such organisations vulnerable to hardliners commanding social media.
If the past 20 years have shown us one thing, it’s the determination of the hunting community—it’s odds on that hunting will survive and, indeed, prosper in the next two decades. There may be fewer packs, as huntable country contracts and the complications of running it intensify, but it would be no surprise to see more people out. Foot packs have perhaps found things more difficult, but there’s a strong core of dedicated enthusiasts who will continue to breed and hunt their beagles and bassets.
Game shooting has challenges. The global movement against lead ammunition continues to gather momentum—a substantive ban across Europe would shape the future of game shooting and deer and pest control, regardless of domestic campaigning. Losing lead would have a profound effect on the guns we use and how we shoot, but it won’t determine whether we shoot at all.
We will be dealing with new species. We already have beavers on the loose and lynxes likely to follow, but it’s wild boar that will have the most immediate and profound effect. Having seen the lengths Hungarians go to in keeping pheasant hoppers out of the reach of gluttonous tuskers, as well as the crop damage boars do, we shouldn’t underestimate the challenge. However, I’m sure the potential of boar hunting will not be missed by the sporting agents of 20 years’ time.
By then, the game market, which will include more boar meat, may have moved away from large processors towards cooperatives, local infrastructure and regional supply chains. With support from projects such as our Game to Eat campaign, shoots need to take their lead from agriculture and collaborate to build local markets for their meat.
Brexit looms over all this. Nothing will have more impact on the countryside of 2037 than the rural policy developed during the next few years. This is the greatest challenge of all, but it’s also an opportunity, for the first time in 40 years, to escape the one-size-fits-all approach of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and produce a policy for the British countryside.
Whether you voted in or out, there can be few people who have not cursed the idiocy of some element of CAP. Now, we have the opportunity to argue, agitate and lobby for a rural policy for rural Britain. It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to squander.
‘Losing lead shot would have a profound effect, but it would not determine whether we shoot’
Town meets country: the Hyde Park rally of 1997 gave thousands a voice