Sharp­shooter

Much of the “ev­i­dence” of il­le­gal killing of rap­tors is dodgy at best and based on froth and rhetoric at worst — yet these crimes shame us all

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - CLASSIFIED -

Iam sick of hear­ing about il­le­gal rap­tor per­se­cu­tion (News, 1 November). The is­sue has tar­nished the rep­u­ta­tion of the shoot­ing com­mu­nity for too long. We must have zero tol­er­ance of such crimes. And our stance must be made clear to the pub­lic, not least for the twin pur­poses of leav­ing the per­pe­tra­tors no place to hide within our ranks and de­priv­ing the an­tis of po­tent am­mu­ni­tion.

The re­cent pro­nounce­ment by BASC, and the sup­port­ing com­ments from the Coun­try­side Al­liance, the National Game­keep­ers’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion (NGO) and oth­ers — in­clud­ing the Ed­i­tor — are timely. These pub­lic dec­la­ra­tions won’t sway all doubters, of course. But they draw a line in the sand for ev­ery­body to see. We must dis­tance our­selves from the wrong-do­ers. BASC has shown real lead­er­ship on this.

Yes, I know the an­tis milk the whole is­sue for their own ends. I also re­alise that some of the facts and fig­ures they pro­duce are dodgy. I know there have been in­stances where al­le­ga­tions have been based on stunts or mis­takes. I have re­ported on some of these at length.

Yet, be­neath all the froth and rhetoric, there is a hard core of un­wel­come truth; the il­le­gal killing of birds of prey does hap­pen, and it hap­pens too of­ten. It shames us all.

There is no ex­cuse. The NGO fought an ex­pen­sive le­gal bat­tle to en­sure that, where com­mon rap­tors such as buz­zards cause a real prob­lem, in­di­vid­ual birds can be dealt with un­der the law — just as cor­morants are, un­der li­cence, to pro­tect fish­eries. This safety valve is most ap­pli­ca­ble to low­land game-rear­ing cir­cum­stances.

Cam­paign­ers fo­cus on driven grouse shoot­ing, not least be­cause they see it as the soft un­der­belly of shoot­ing. I mean, when did you last shoot a driven grouse? The clos­est most of us get to it is beat­ing or load­ing or pick­ing-up. It is a mi­nor­ity sport within a mi­nor­ity sport. And un­for­tu­nately, rightly or wrongly, it reeks of priv­i­lege. This is grist to the an­tis’ mill.

I know there are some mod­est driven grouse syn­di­cates, in ad­di­tion to all the walked-up out­fits. But at the top end, the ab­sen­tee grouse moor own­ers, agents and shoot­ers who ex­pect bags of sev­eral hun­dred brace a day are in a dif­fer­ent league. Sat­is­fy­ing their de­mands is tough. Head­keep­ers on big grouse moors must feel like foot­ball club man­agers — al­ways be­ing judged by their last game. And some of the fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives be­ing em­ployed seem to owe more to City prac­tices than to long-term land­scape man­age­ment.

The irony is that if driven game shoot­ing is re­stricted, the peo­ple at the top of the driven shoot­ing world can sim­ply move on to high-vol­ume dove shoot­ing in Ar­gentina, or what­ever. The rest of us can­not.

It would be a thou­sand pities if the self­ish ac­tions of the tiny mi­nor­ity ended up hav­ing un­wel­come con­se­quences for the vast ma­jor­ity of shoot­ers. His­tory shows that once shoot­ing is re­stricted in any form, the noose is never loos­ened. It acts like a self-lock­ing snare of old, tight­en­ing with ev­ery strug­gle. The shoot­ing com­mu­nity has made its po­si­tion on il­le­gal per­se­cu­tion clear. Now the RSPB should re­cip­ro­cate by get­ting back on board the Hen Har­rier Ac­tion Plan. This aims to pro­duce more hen har­ri­ers, but with less con­flict with the driven grouse shoot­ing that funds moor­land man­age­ment and ben­e­fits many species.

Surely, any pure con­ser­va­tion char­ity should sup­port these aims.

“Keep­ers on grouse moors must feel like foot­ball man­agers — al­ways judged by their last game”

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