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

Sporting Shooter - - Game Keeper - WITH TIM WE­STON

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

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