William Powell Country

Is Game Shooting Safe?


Article written by 26 July 2012
is game shooting safe

This is a question I am often asked and it could be argued that people would not be asking if they had already got the answer locked in their hearts. Nobody asks if tennis or golf are safe for future generations.

It may seem an odd question to ask when in many ways game shooting has never been more successful, more popular, better organised or contributed more to the rural economy and biodiversity. Why should a recreational activity which pumps millions of pounds of private money into the economy and conservation be under any threat whatsoever? Is there any evidence that something which seems a natural part of the way of life of so many reasonable and pleasant people is under any sort of threat?

In my view there is ample evidence that game shooters can expect to be under increasing attack. We can start with the obvious fact that organisations like the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) and the RSPCA have been entirely open about their wish to see game shooting banned. This would require a piece of legislation to pass through both Houses of Parliament and many take comfort in the belief that after the complete debacle of the Hunting with Dogs Act parliamentarians won’t touch game shooting with a barge pole. Furthermore all sorts of assurances were given at the time that shooting was different, shooting would be safe, ‘trust us we are really not interested in shooting’, etc.

So can we safely discount the risk? In the short term at least, the answer may well be ‘yes’ but most if not all of the people who gave those assurances are out power and many now out of parliament. The level of firsthand knowledge of how the countryside works amongst parliamentarians continues to decline. People have short memories and there are always some whose yearning for celebrity of any kind, will tempt them to do the outrageous. Don’t be surprised if a private members bill appears out of the woodwork.

In fact the, immediate risk is death by a thousand cuts. Those opposed to game shooting are seeking not to sweep it away, much as they would like to do so, but to erode it. They seek to undermine its foundations, reduce its financial base, inhibit the recruitment of new shooters, reduce the range of species that can be shot and take every opportunity to distort the image of game shooting and game shooters.

To go through every threat would fill a book and many readers will be all too well aware of all these to need me to go over them. So let us focus on one that may be new to you but which may well become more prominent in years to come,

There is a new approach to pheasants and red-legged partridges. They are increasingly the subject of a sort of conservation apartheid. Historically they have been referred to as ‘residents’ or at worst ‘naturalised residents’. This seemed reasonable for red-legs which were introduced at the end of the 18th Century but a bit harsh on the pheasant which was probably here before the Anglo-Saxons and certainly naturalised by the time the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was written. They share their ‘naturalised resident’ status with creatures such as fallow deer, the brown hare, carp and sweet chestnut tree. Not really very controversial then? Don’t you believe it! Whilst these other species are happily accepted for what they are, an intrinsic part of our flora and fauna, the game birds are now always referred to as ‘non-native’ or more recently ‘alien’. Nobody, including those who use this language, ever refer to the non-native brown hare or the alien sweet chestnut. Why do they choose to use such discriminatory language for some gamebirds? Because their plan is to move to a position where we can no longer release pheasants and red-legs.

It is of course obvious that driven pheasant and red-leg shooting results in a very substantial flow of income into the countryside, dwarfing even the most exaggerated claims made for the income generated by bird and mammal watching. Furthermore, the collateral conservation benefits from properly conducted released bird shooting, whilst not as intense as on wild bird shoots, are still impressive and arguably indispensible in the modern countryside. There are many places where without the coverts and game crops, the predation control and the supplementary feeding, non-game species would have a very hard time indeed.

All of this is entirely expendable according to the developing alien species argument. Not only that but the poor old pheasant is not simply an alien but also the root of all evil. Faced with incontrovertible evidence that without predation control many ground nesting birds are wasting their time trying to breed, a new explanation has been manufactured. According to this the only reason that there are problems with foxes and crows is that they live on released pheasants thus their numbers increase to the point at which they themselves need controlling.

In its fully developed form, the claim will be that if releasing so-called ‘alien pheasants’ was stopped, the population of crows and foxes would miraculously decline without any human intervention and ground nesting birds would no longer need predation control in order to survive.

It should be made clear straight away that there has been no evidence produced to support this amazingly convenient theory. In fact quite the reverse: not only have foxes and crows increased in towns and cities where, to my certain knowledge, pheasant releasing rarely takes place, but the same has occurred in Europe where driven game shooting hardly occurs. In the days when foxhunting was legal, if you had told the local MFH that foxes would be most numerous on his biggest shoots he would almost certainly have been incredulous. But all of this is common sense and anecdotal and if we have learnt nothing else over the last few years, it is that whilst the opponents of shooting can say anything and be believed, if we say that Monday follows Sunday all we get is, ‘they would say that wouldn’t they’.

So it’s back to research. We will need to look in depth and with the uttermost rigour at these claims and publish what we find and quickly, before the myth affects policy. Otherwise, in spite of all the easy promises, we will wake up one morning and find that the things we love have gone with the wind, that peoples livelihoods have been destroyed and the biodiversity of the countryside irreparably damaged.



Ian Coghill

Chairman of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust Read more.

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