Give it a fair shot
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