Keepering with the NGO
Having been challenged by a number of non-shooters on social media, Tim Weston asks whether gamekeepers and hunters can justifiably claim to be conservationists
What makes a conservationist? Do shooters and keepers have the right to categorise themselves as such?
Social media is a powerful tool to get any message across to people that you would never be able to meet face to face and one that is utilised by most of us in our daily lives. Some are much more accomplished at it than others on any side of any argument. Unfortunately, for those of us who work or take part in shooting sports, it seems that the other side have the edge when it comes to the keyboard warrior.
Chris Packham, for example, spreads a lot of propaganda by using his celebrity status to spread a message of hate towards gamekeepers and especially those who are involved in grouse shooting. It is quite hard to counter when he can use a vehicle like Springwatch to convince people that what he says is true and accurate.
I use Twitter and Instagram a fair bit and try to put across the good work that gamekeepers and stalkers do in terms of conservation work in the UK. Of course, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation do a fair bit of this too, but I think it is better coming from a personal account from a real person who lives and breathes it.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I posted a video of a decent roe buck walking towards me. I didn’t, and wasn’t going to, shoot that deer, but I did get a great bit of footage which I shared with the world. Within minutes, I got a barrage of abuse from people that called themselves conservationists, calling me all sorts of names. I always reply, no matter how bad the abuse, often sending a picture of the RSPB reserve’s cull records which includes a staggering 523 red deer, 427 roe deer, 487 crows as well as other species such as fox, mink, squirrel etc. This illustrates perfectly that conservation also has to include culling. Often those that attack go quiet quickly or just carry on calling you names, which I think shows that I have won the argument. They cannot counter a reasonable argument for why shooting goes hand in hand with conservation. However, this got me thinking: to what extent can those who shoot call themselves conservationists? Gamekeepers, which includes those of you who run small DIY shoots, in my opinion, tick pretty much all the boxes, as they provide habitat for all manner of species, not just those that they want to hunt. Keepers also provide food in the harsh months and control predators that would otherwise decimate the populations of vulnerable species like the lapwing and curlew. Shoot owners also very much fall into this category, as they are the ones that allow these activities to take place on their land and often will be paying for it directly. But can and should those of us who go shooting call ourselves conservationists? That I think we need to question. Undoubtably, the money that you spend on your shooting will partly go to pay for the excellent conservation work that the shoots and their gamekeepers do, but if you are not actively taking part in the working part of conservation side of things can you be a conservationist?
I think you can, but only in the same way as a member of the RSPB or a Wildlife Trust member is. They all contribute and are part of the conservation family, but the most important people are those that actually do the work.
One way we can all help to promote the truth about shooting is to tell people our story. All of us like to shoot or stalk – that is probably why you are reading this magazine – so we all have a responsibility to promote the benefits of what we do to the world. Most people don’t realise that the bulk of all the conservation work undertaken in southern England is because of game shooting, and in the uplands we have a totally unique wild landscape with an abundance of waders and other rare birds almost exclusively because of grouse shooting.
The mainstream media won’t publish news stories showcasing the great work we do because good news is no news and wildlife programmes such as Springwatch certainly don’t want to put shooting in a good light so it is up to us as individuals to talk and educate in a reasonable and thoughtful manner.
The National Gamekeepers’ Educational Trust is a charity that is funded by the NGO. They have all manner of videos and flyers on what good gamekeeping and shooting does that they allow you to use free of charge to help promote to the public what we do and why.
The NGO are also organising a huge stand at the BBC Countryfile Live show in Oxfordshire again this year with the GWCT, Game Dealers Asscociation, British Deer Society, Brights Seeds and several of the Moorland groups to showcase to the general public who wouldn’t normally meet a gamekeeper all the great conservation work that we do. The public will meet gamekeepers with dirt under their fingernails who have a fantastic conservation story to tell.
Which is more than can be said for some pretentious TV presenters.
Shooters might not look like your stereotypical tree huggers, but do they tick the ‘conservationist’ boxes?
Keepers control predators that would otherwise decimate venerable species such as the curlew