Fair play to BBC’S Farming Today for giving gamekeepers a voice. Now we must build on that and try to convert those who hold a neutral view
From 15 to 20 October BBC Radio 4’s Farming today had a week of programmes featuring interviews with gamekeepers and discussions on gamekeeping. the programme attracts a large, diverse audience and is actually quite influential, despite the early transmission time of 5.45am. it has a 15-minute weekday slot, extended to 30 minutes at the weekend, which is listened to by farmers and those with an interest in all things rural.
i opened on the monday morning and was asked some general shooting and gamekeeping questions. Nothing controversial, nothing difficult. On tuesday, there was a keeper from a scottish moor, who did a great job of explaining the economic importance of grouse shooting to upland communities.
Wednesday featured a friend of mine from the Peak District talking about moorland management and the issues caused by last summer’s wildfires. He explained the difference between a managed cool burn and a hot burn, and described some of the work his estate is doing to re-establish heather and reduce fire risk. He came across well and his depth of knowledge and passion for the job were plain to see or, in this case, hear.
Predictably, there was someone from Friends of the earth on the same episode, spouting anti-grouse shooting rhetoric. He was quickly and ably corrected by amanda anderson of the moorland association, who rightly condemned bad and illegal practices, and highlighted the nesting successes of the hen harrier in england in 2018.
thursday there was an interesting discussion about the public perception of our sport. Duncan sinclair, headkeeper at the Powys moorland Partnership, stressed the importance of habitat management to the production of wild game — and the benefits to other species — and how he thought we had a great story to tell but were pretty poor at telling it. Friday was an interview with a part-time keeper from Leicestershire. He came across well and, again, did a great job explaining the role of the keeper and the reasons he enjoyed it.
saturday’s final episode was from a shoot in the Cotswolds, where the gamekeeper and shoot processes all their own game, as well as an extension of the debate between the Friends of the earth representative and amanda anderson on moorland management.
the gamekeeping slot was only a few minutes each day. the questions were fair, the presenter well briefed and, on the whole, i thought it was presented from a neutral standpoint. the BBC has come in for criticism in the past, accused of bias and having an anti-shooting agenda, but on this occasion, it played it with a straight bat. No surprise questions, everything asked was topical and there were no hidden agendas.
the only thing i am unsure of — and there is no way of knowing — is what the balance of emails and responses was. How many were pro-shooting and how many were against? Perhaps more importantly, whether any of the listeners changed their minds after the programme.
i suspect the vast majority of Farming today listeners are either pro-shooting or neutral on the subject. this doesn’t mean we should discount those who listened in who are opposed to game shooting and who don’t particularly like gamekeepers and what we do.
the people with a neutral view, those who hold the middle ground and make up the vast majority of the population, are the key to our future. We need to explain why we do things, explain how what we do benefits other species, follow best practice, be polite and focused, stay within the law and be proud of what we do.
One grumpy gamekeeper, one illegal act, one incident of bad practice caught on camera and shared on social media is one too many, if we want the neutrals to remain just that.
if you didn’t manage to catch the programme — and 5.45am is admittedly a bit early for all but the most die hard among us — you can catch up with it on
BBC iplayer. it is well worth a listen.
“One case of bad practice caught on camera and shared on social media is one too many”
Firefighters dampen the moorland with water on the hills near Stalybridge during June’s wildfires