the danger of silence
Game shooting faces unprecedented risks in the 21st century, so why isn’t our community more vocal in its defence of the sport at a time when it’s really needed? John Clements presents both problems and solutions.
We all get them at some point; it might be in the pub, at a meeting, at a party or sitting down to lunch; the mood begins to get crispy around the edges, firmer under foot and the mercury in the thermometer begins to drop: “You go out and kill things for fun?”
The line is drawn, the die cast and the clock is ticking, a lone bundle of tumbleweed rolls by and children are hustled away to safety. This is the moment when similarities step noiselessly aside leaving them and us standing. These people have no clue about the countryside. We, of course, are rotters: inbred, over-privileged rich louts who go about killing everything that gets in the way of us killing everything else. Public school psychopaths, arrogant despoilers of wildlife with an attitude to mother nature that would stop any selfrespecting rampaging horde in its tracks and cause them, as one, to suck their teeth, wince painfully and mutter: “Steady on old chap…”
Utter nonsense of course. We are, all of us, for this point, lumped together on the grand spectrum of ‘who likes shooting?’ and no matter how we position ourselves on the infinite number of other spectra; on this one we do not agree. Each will have their reasons and will have made decisions based on what they have heard, seen or had drummed into them at their mother’s (or father’s) knee.
And yet, there are mutterings in the shire, strange things are afoot in the North, where prize-winning and profitable conservation projects are being shut down by people who don’t approve. Petitions are raised and debates had and a crushing point for our side. But it is not over; still the argument continues. Having seen the power of science and evidence, and then seen what a political campaign can do to the science when opinions are involved, what then?
It has to be said, 0.09 per cent does not sound like very much; it is less than one in 1,000; it even makes my A-level chemistry marks sound reasonable! So what is this embarrassing score? This puny proportion? It is the number of submissions to the Driven Grouse Debate as a percentage of the number of shotgun certificates in the UK; and it is rounded up. It even includes the submissions in favour of the ban.
The thing is, 0.09 per cent is an improvement. A couple of decades ago a Home Office inquiry into firearms amassed a total of around 200 submissions (there were 486 for the grouse debate). Again, there had been a push by all of the shooting organisations to get people to contribute evidence and opinion, pretty much in the same way as for the grouse petition, but the final total, including the anti submissions, remained at around 200.
This earlier debate was when
I got seriously interested; I hadn’t been shooting very long, but I still thought that it might be worth chucking my two pennies’ worth into the pot. When I discovered the inquiry’s turnout I was appalled and remain so. It fired me up; not to join the angry mob, because there wasn’t one, but to get involved and to keep an eye out for bias against shooting. As a teacher in school and at meetings (I was very keen on environmental education) I would engage with those who would freely criticise shooting, and as I knew what I was talking about, I would tend to do well in these discussions. I was a hunter gardener, and as such was more in harmony with those around the world who rely on their environment; they have to protect it and live as part of it. Instead of making dream catchers, my class would eat pigeons, watch me draw pheasants and cook fish they had caught. Importantly, they would also learn to sit and watch the natural world. Outside class I did what I could. I wrote to magazines, the RSPB, the BBC, The Guardian, Wildlife Trusts, MPS, ministers and so on with varying degrees of success, and I learned about complaints departments. You have to keep at it with them; they have a protective layer of people who make responses to your complaint. If you can bypass them immediately do so; from my experience they are more keen to make you think you have complained. In my experience they deal with the bits they want to and ignore the bits they don’t; you will be thanked for your communication.
Liberty and liberties
I like the Voltaire/hall quote, ‘I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ but does it apply to every situation when dealing with the anti-shooting bias? Some antis are totally genuine and good people; they have done their reading, and they have come down with a view that opposes shooting; some will have seen it through and gone full vegan, and they will see that they have reached a different view to you but many appreciate that it does not give them the right to tell you not to shoot. For example, a Buddhist I used to know thought that everyone who ate meat should have killed and prepared at least one animal and eaten it. He also felt that at least by shooting my food I was being honest enough to kill it myself.
“I would engage with those who would freely criticise shooting, as I knew what I was talking about.”
The array of antis is broad and I don’t need to describe any in particular, because we see them on the television and hear them on the radio and read them in the press. Whether it’s a news item, an interview, an incident in a soap opera or some throwaway line having a dig at shooting or people who shoot. Social media is more worrying; the comments serve as indicators not just of alleged emotion but also of the extremist views of some of these people. The key thing with most of these aggressive outbursts is that they are not to generate discussion and to reach a better understanding. They are more of the berating tone of Bertie Wooster’s aunt. They seek to label people as different, to score points with each other and not for a cause. A tolerant society seems to be less high on some people’s to-do lists than they might have you believe.
In his summary of the events that made up the petition to ban driven grouse shooting, the GWCT’S Andrew Gilruth illustrates that the petition generated support from only 0.25 per cent of the adult population, so do we actually have anything to worry about? Have you perhaps not noticed how shooting celebrities have to keep a low profile? How can antis have such influence? We need a shift in the shooting culture, we need to feel that the excellent research and information put out by BASC, the GWCT, the NGO and Countryside Alliance is for us to hand on and to get into the national consciousness, to make it an ingredient in the daily bread.
Can we justify shooting animals? Of course we can. We need to feel that we can do it. When we read, hear or see some rubbish said about shooting, we need to respond to it. We know that the antis choose their battles carefully, and that is how we should respond. We need to start putting those concerns about news and social media into words and action. How? Write, talk, share our experiences, respond, be proactive in prolonging the future of our sport. We should join the few famous people who speak up for shooting, however modest our contribution. My personal thoughts are that if we knew others were doing it, more less-famous folk might join in.
My idea is a modest badge with a simple message ‘Speak Up For Shooting’ and possibly a website flagging up issues with hints and links to the information that answers such issues. Imagine 56,000 letters arriving at a television company complaints department or a council considering a lease on a moor. That is only 10 per cent of shooters; just over 33 per cent of BASC members.
Think of the irreplaceable, poignant, joyous moments you have had out shooting; would you deny them to the next generation?
John’s small but powerful call to action, a pin badge with a simple message.
Conversation is never lacking on a shoot, and those within the community should never be afraid to speak up for their sport.