Give it a fair shot

Country Life Every Week - - Country Life -

CRISPER, cooler, clear days her­ald the game-shooting sea­son, in which some 600,000 peo­ple in the UK will par­tic­i­pate ( page 127). Some 11 mil­lion days’ sport will gen­er­ate a turnover in ex­cess of £2 bil­lion and fund the equiv­a­lent of 74,000 full-time jobs. Shoots will main­tain a net­work of wildlife habi­tats, in­clud­ing the less revered parts be­tween iconic na­ture re­serves. Thou­sands of clubs, syndicates and private and com­mer­cial shoots will pro­vide the so­cial and eco­nomic lifeblood of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties this win­ter. The meat is healthy, de­li­cious and nat­u­ral.

With all this in its favour, shooting should gar­ner sup­port from politi­cians of all stripes, but it strug­gles to do so, for, within all this good, there lurks a dan­ger­ous canker in the shape of bad prac­tice, which the sport de­nies at its peril.

The rot be­gins on a small mi­nor­ity of shoots with the catch­ing-up of lay­ing birds af­ter Fe­bru­ary 1 (il­le­gal since 1831), con­tin­ues in the use of lay­ing units with­out en­rich­ment (a breach of game-rear­ing codes) and, as chicks grow, can re­turn in the form of depen­dence on med­i­ca­tion rather than good man­age­ment. An­other prob­lem is the ‘top­ping-up’ of birds dur­ing the sea­son (con­tra­ven­ing the Code of Good Shooting Prac­tice). Per­se­cu­tion of rap­tors re­mains a scourge in the up­lands, lead shot is some­times used to fell wild­fowl and some shoots will strug­gle to sell all the birds they shoot.

None of this is wide­spread, but any mis­con­duct will inevitably be used to great ef­fect by shooting’s op­po­nents. Read­ers who shoot may wince at see­ing this litany of wrong­do­ings writ­ten down, but they should re­call Ed­mund Burke’s ad­vice that ‘the only thing nec­es­sary for the tri­umph of evil is for good men to do noth­ing’.

A newly pub­lished re­vised edi­tion of the Code of Good Shooting Prac­tice rec­om­mends that any sus­pected bad prac­tice be raised with the shoot or­gan­iser and, if nec­es­sary, the rel­e­vant shooting and con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions, so it can be rapidly rec­ti­fied. For too long, the very few who sail too close to the wind have been cos­set­ted within a com­mu­nity that’s largely pre­pared to look away, but, if shooting is to sur­vive, the blan­ket of si­lence must be lifted and the odd rot­ten ap­ples shamed.

Sav­ing shooting by ex­pos­ing and stamp­ing out bad prac­tice should be easy be­cause the good out­weighs the bad many times over. The ques­tion, there­fore, is not whether shooting can save it­self, but whether it has the will to do so.

‘Any mis­con­duct will inevitably be used to great ef­fect by op­po­nents

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