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

Country Life Every Week - - CONTENTS -

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

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