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The hunt­ing com­mu­nity’s de­fence of its pur­suit can pro­vide valu­able lessons, says the Coun­try­side Al­liance’s head of shoot­ing, Liam Stokes

THE ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with all forms of game-shoot­ing are undis­putable but the ben­e­fits of grouse-shoot­ing are surely clear­est of all. Yet the de­sire to ban grouse-shoot­ing has re­cently in­flamed the pas­sions of the an­i­mal-rights com­mu­nity. Not since the events lead­ing to the Hunt­ing Act have we seen one of our coun­try­side pur­suits so sin­gu­larly per­se­cuted with pro­pa­ganda and ac­tivism. We at the Coun­try­side Al­liance are uniquely placed to learn the lessons of the fight for hunt­ing and ap­ply them to the cur­rent chal­lenges fac­ing grouse-shoot­ing. We re­main at the fore­front of the cam­paign for hunt­ing and the pro­mo­tion of grouse-moor man­age­ment.

To­gether with Jim Bar­ring­ton, for­mer ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) and cur­rent an­i­mal wel­fare con­sul­tant to the Coun­try­side Al­liance, we iden­ti­fied three key ar­eas in which grouse­shoot­ing can ben­e­fit from the ex­pe­ri­ences of the hunt­ing com­mu­nity.

Wel­com­ing in the public

From the 1960s to the early ’90s the hunt­ing world was re­luc­tant to en­gage with the public. There was a sense that if peo­ple kept their heads down, the scru­tiny and the an­i­mus would pass. Un­for­tu­nately, this led to the idea that hunt­ing was the pre­serve of the wealthy and of no in­ter­est to any­one else.

It is vi­tal grouse-shoot­ing does not al­low it­self to be sim­i­larly por­trayed as in­su­lar and re­mote. We know its op­po­nents seek to de­ploy the rhetoric of class war, just as they did against hunt­ing. Tweeds and plus fours can be as in­cen­di­ary as red coats and horses to a cer­tain kind of ac­tivist.

We must take the pro-shoot­ing ar­gu­ment to the gen­eral public, at events such as Coun­try­file Live, and de­liver them in an en­gag­ing man­ner. We need to take peo­ple onto grouse moors, in­tro­duce them to game­keep­ers, show them the con­ser­va­tion suc­cesses and ex­plain the rel­e­vance of shoot­ing to the com­mu­nity. We have be­gun ar­rang­ing such events and the bar­rier-bust­ing con­ver­sa­tions we’ve seen have been a joy to be­hold.

Chal­lenge the an­tis

By the time the anti-hunt­ing move­ment was se­ri­ously chal­lenged, po­lit­i­cally and sci­en­tif­i­cally, a great deal of the dam­age had been done. Po­lit­i­cally, LACS had a free run at all the party con­fer­ences (Labour in par­tic­u­lar) for years. Had a suit­able pro-hunt­ing per­son been put in the mix it might have neu­tralised some of the anti’s pro­pa­ganda in the eyes of sen­si­ble politi­cians. A con­se­quence of this fail­ing, as far as the Labour Party is con­cerned, is a view that “LACS stuck with us through hard times, we’ll stick with them when in power”. We have to be fear­less in tak­ing our mes­sage to all points on the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. We had a Labour MP join a panel de­bate on the con­tri­bu­tion of hunt­ing, shoot­ing, fish­ing and farm­ing to con­ser­va­tion at the 2015 Labour Party Con­fer­ence. Con­ver­sa­tions like these pre­vent the abo­li­tion of grouse-shoot­ing be­com­ing a ral­ly­ing point for any one party.

Sci­en­tif­i­cally, the anti-hunt­ing move­ment was not suf­fi­ciently chal­lenged in the early days of the de­bate. The sci­ence used as the ba­sis for the ban can now be shred­ded but this was not done soon enough. The an­tis were able to por­tray shoot­ing as the “hu­mane al­ter­na­tive to hunt­ing” rather than the equal­ly­hu­mane al­ter­na­tive that it is, with­out pre­sent­ing ev­i­dence to back their claims up. Sim­i­larly spu­ri­ous claims are now be­ing lev­elled against grouse-shoot­ing and it is vi­tal that we counter by de­ploy­ing the enor­mous body of eco­nomic and eco­log­i­cal re­search that sup­ports moor­land man­age­ment. We also need to tai­lor our ar­gu­ments to the au­di­ence. The con­ser­va­tion ben­e­fits of shoot­ing are proven and ac­cepted within our own com­mu­nity but the so­cial and eco­nomic ar­gu­ments of­ten res­onate more with the gen­eral public.

How­ever, this can­not sim­ply be a rear­guard ac­tion. The ques­tion of what should re­place hunt­ing in the coun­try­side was never re­ally put to the an­tis dur­ing the pre-Hunt­ing Act era, and that mis­take can­not be re­peated. Par­tic­u­larly where ban­ning driven grouse­shoot­ing would be des­tined to re­sult in thou­sands of hectares of sheep graz­ing, in­ten­sive forestry and scrub.


In any hu­man ac­tiv­ity there will be fail­ings. There can be good and bad in shoot­ing, hunt­ing, farm­ing and con­ser­va­tion prac­tices; ad­dress­ing faults should be the aim of re­form, not a series of laws that ban one ac­tiv­ity, only to move on to the next.

Pre­vi­ously, there has been a re­luc­tance to ac­cept that any­thing might be wrong with any hunt­ing prac­tices or prac­ti­tion­ers but in­ter­nal re­form would have done the hunt­ing cam­paign a favour. It is im­por­tant that shoot­ing does not fall into the same trap. The Hen Har­rier Joint Ac­tion Plan, and the new will­ing­ness of Nat­u­ral Eng­land to is­sue in­di­vid­ual li­cences to con­trol birds of prey where ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary, mean game­keep­ers now have re­course within the law when they re­ally need it. There can be no doubt that oc­cur­rences of rap­tor per­se­cu­tion are toxic, there can be no tol­er­ance for crim­i­nal­ity or bad prac­tice.

As long as these lessons are heeded, grouse­shoot­ing will have a bright fu­ture. Al­though it is cer­tainly in the an­tis’ sights, the cam­paign is nowhere near at the fever-pitch level that saw the in­tro­duc­tion of the Hunt­ing Act. There is still plenty of time to win hearts and minds, and to en­sure the valid ar­gu­ments for proper moor­land man­age­ment are given a fair hear­ing. Once heard, those ar­gu­ments will en­sure that there are plenty more Glo­ri­ous Twelfths to come.

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