150,000 advocates

As the show season draws to a close, Gareth Dockerty considers the opportunities presented by attending events where the value of face-to-face interaction with shooters and non-shooters is often questioned. This article first appeared in the November/December issue of Shooting & Conservation magazine.

A couple of years ago BBC Countryfile Live came to Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. The show, we thought, was a huge success and the BASC stand was a hive of activity. But after day one, a colleague suggested that most of the people coming to us already had a positive view of shooting. I decided to undertake a small experiment…

Armed with a board of delicious woodpigeon ‘taster’ canapés and plenty of enthusiasm, I left the stand and started talking to people in the main walkways. It soon became clear that engagement was far harder won when away from the stand; feedback and interest was all of a sudden not so positive. It is human nature to believe you must have achieved something because you worked hard, but this really made me think about our broader objective – and value – at shows in general.

More recently, as I drove around northern England collecting items for the uplands display on the BASC stand at The Game Fair, I once again pondered the oft-heard accusation that attendance of such events by the shooting organisations is pointless – that we are simply preaching to the converted. I decided that this year I’d make a real effort to pin down my own views. After all, nobody wants to feel as though they’re wasting their time.

The weekend of the big event at Ragley Hall finally arrived and after setting up the upland section I had a chance to scan over the rest of the stand before the public arrived in the morning. There was space dedicated to our media and press functions, our firearms team, sustainable ammunition, membership services, wildfowling, deer, gamekeeping and conservation. It was a stand packed with information, but was this all really a waste of time? Were we simply all set and ready to ‘preach to the converted’?

What does ‘converted’ mean?

The dictionary defines the word ‘converted’ as “something (or someone) that has been adapted or made suitable for a new use”. Granted, those who question the presence of the membership organisations at shows and events are usually referring to the fact that we are engaging with people who are ‘pro’ fieldsports rather than those who have little knowledge or are even opposed to what we do. But should we not first look much closer to home? In the context of the definition above, are our members and the broader shooting community really ‘converted’?

I think some people are, without doubt; at The Game Fair, I chatted with visitors to the stand who had a deep understanding of the pressures facing shooting and a good grasp of the changes to legislation. They were passionate advocates of the benefits their shooting activities created for local communities and nature.

Then there were those who were asking questions and trying to understand the direction of travel. They had limited knowledge but were keen to learn more.

At the other end of the spectrum was a small minority of people who were completely unaware of their legal obligations and key issues currently affecting their sport, with a clear reluctance to receive new information or remain open-minded on important issues.

Even though most of those I engaged with were familiar with and in favour of shooting, I certainly wouldn’t consider every visitor to the stand ‘converted’.

Of course, the conversations don’t revolve solely around advice. These shows are also a great opportunity for people to voice their concerns regarding either their personal shooting experience or the broader direction of BASC. Barry Lawson alluded to this point in his article on the final page of the September/October issue of this magazine. It is important for BASC staff to be accountable to its members.

Everyone has a role to play

All members of the shooting community are potential advocates, with the ability to spread both positive and negative messages on the value of shooting. While BASC staff (including myself) should do their best to break out of the bubble and discuss shooting with non-shooters, we also need the 150,000-plus BASC members to be well-informed advocates – to share information and have discussions within their communities, ensuring shooters are seen to be knowledgeable, trustworthy and passionate about the countryside and its management.

It is true to say that most people at game fairs already support shooting, so an attempt to convince the shooting community that shooting is important is rather pointless. The focus should remain on upskilling people and providing them with the key information and knowledge they need to ensure sustainable shooting is discussed widely and secured for future generations. And despite our advances in communication technology, there is sometimes no substitute for a face-to- face chat.

Multiple opportunities

When you really stop and think about it, events like The Game Fair offer various opportunities with lots of different people. It’s really a case of ensuring the messages and activity fit the audience and align with your own (or your employer’s) objectives.

At shows this year I have met several key ministers, MPs and decision makers with a direct interest in the uplands. It’s a chance to make an impression and fill pages of my notebook with follow-up tasks and key opportunities to develop in the coming weeks and months. In the same vein, these events are an opportunity to meet with lots of different stakeholders and the staff of partner organisations in a relaxed environment.

It’s important that we continue to engage with and host non-shooter events as well, with projects like Let’s Learn Moor, and I’ll do all I can to escape my echo chamber. However, to have any hope of making this worthwhile in the long term, shooters must be well-informed and passionate advocates. If attending shooting shows helps achieve this, so much the better.