DELIVERING an address to Liverpool councillors last night put me in the mind of a condemned man saying his final words from the gallows. The crowd listened respectfully, but the executioner already had a hand on the lever.
As is the way of these things, I formally thanked Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson for allowing BASC to address their anti-shooting motion at the full hearing of the city’s council.
We even enjoyed a friendly exchange with him on the steps of the town hall before the hearing, when he stopped to stroke the gundog we had brought along for the ride and took a bag of BASC freebies from our staff who were directly lobbying councillors.
But the direction of travel was set long before councillors took their seats in the gilded chamber for the non-debate. There was to be no budging from the loaded rhetoric of the motion which was passed without dissent and now has Liverpool City Council officially labelling all who shoot as ‘barbaric’ and interested only in wiping out ‘threatened species’.
My address was recorded by Fieldsports TV and their presenter Charlie Jacoby didn’t have to work too hard afterwards to get across our disappointment around an outcome that should be grossly offensive to those who care passionately about shooting.
The full impact of the motion, which also called on other councils to follow Liverpool’s lead, may not be seen in the short-term.
But there will almost certainly be impacts further down the line for the city of Liverpool, which may never become apparent to the councilors who blindly supported such an ill-advised motion. As we said in the address, councillors will have no idea who they may have offended, whose goodwill was destroyed by the toxic tone of the motion, and what future investment might be jeopardised.
There are also some clear lessons for the entire shooting community in all of this.
Last night also neatly encapsulated that some elements of shooting are difficult for the general public to stomach.
One councillor would apparently be happy to see trained marksmen roaming the streets to finish off the city’s rats. But there was little appetite for the argument that shooting is an essential, effective method for the control of woodpigeons in the process of destroying a farmer’s crops.
So-called ‘trophy hunting’ got a mention, badgers reared their heads, and cute and fluffy foxes were discussed, while the Green Party leader eulogised about a eutopia where all animals are considered equal and are just left to get on with it, or some such simplistic twaddle.
Last night again highlighted to me that, for the sake of shooting’s future, each of us has a responsibility to challenge the powerful misconceptions that exist about shooting.
A simple step would be to contact your local councillor similarly to the address delivered to Liverpool last night.
We’ve reproduced most of the address here. It touches on as many points as it’s possible to cover in the five minutes allocated. Take the bits that are useful; write a letter, drop your councillor an email, use it as the basis for a chat at a drop-in meeting.
Policy and grossly offensive motions won’t be changed by email alone. But it may just open a crucial line of communication that means there is a slightly friendlier face in the crowd the next time we stand on the gallows.
Having listened to a councillor on Radio Merseyside this morning, I can’t help feeling as though I’m on a hiding to nothing coming here this evening. A bit like a Liverpool fan walking into an Everton pub on derby day and hoping for a fair hearing! But I’ll give it a go anyway.
I represent the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. The second half of our title isn’t just lip-service. Shooting and conservation really do go hand-in-hand.
Our 155,000 members represent pretty much all the shooting disciplines. On Merseyside alone, around 5,000 people regularly shoot and many are our members and your constituents. We are all heavily police vetted and monitored. A speeding ticket can be enough to have our guns taken away, so please don’t confuse us with those who engage in gangland gun culture.
Shooting is worth two billion to the UK economy and supports around 74,000 full-time jobs.
Shooting is involved in the management of two-thirds of the UK’s rural land area and 3.9 million workdays are spent on conservation every year.
Figures can be pretty flat. BUT behind them lies the real success story of shooting.
It supports local B&Bs, small hotels, pubs, garages, little vet practices and independent shops in out-the-way villages.
We don’t threaten species that are precarious, as your motion suggests, we support and encourage them. For shooting to thrive, it needs remarkable biodiversity. This is a fact supported by the science.
BASC does amazing work around the conservation of water voles and red squirrels, for example, and works hard to support birds like woodcock, lapwings and a whole host of iconic species.
Shooting also puts food on the table. Around 97 per cent of all game shot makes it into the food chain. Game meat is stocked in many high street supermarkets because today’s consumer increasingly wants food that is ethically sourced, sustainable, healthy and local. Imagine the size of the network of people who need to be employed to make that happen?
The shooting community is amazingly diverse, as highlighted by the image of the cover on our latest Shooting and Conservation magazine.
The woman on the left is our vice-chair, one of five women on our council. She has shot since she was a child.
The man on the right came to this country as a 15-year-old from Ethiopia, unable to speak much English and without clear qualifications. He’s now a cancer research scientist and is utterly ingrained in the rural way of life in northern England. He truly believes that shooting has transformed his life.
I can show you that shooting cuts across every race, colour, age group and social background.
Certainly, there are misconceptions around people who shoot, but to judge us all like that would be as inaccurate as stereotyping the entire crowd at a football match based on the wealth of the few people sitting in the directors’ box.
It’s important to tackle this, because it’s important to understand that shooting runs through the lives of many, many people. It is not the preserve of the few.
And as law-abiding, responsible members of the wider Liverpool community we are grossly offended by the language in this motion. To label us as ‘barbaric’ is not what we would expect from a council rightly proud of equality, inclusivity and diversity.
As we said in the Liverpool Echo last week, any one of us would be happy to take you out to show what shooting is all about. And I think you would agree if you spent any time in our company, we’re not barbarians.
Yes, we shoot pheasants and other birds for food. But we also do the hard graft in the extensive land and species management that supports that.
Yes, we shoot deer. But their population levels need to be professionally managed. They are at record highs, which translates to massive damage to habitats and around 74,000 vehicle collisions each year. The clean dispatch of a deer is as humane, ethical and professional as it is possible to get.
Yes, we shoot pigeons and crows. But they are serious pests to farmers who see entire crops decimated if swift action is not taken at crucial times of year. Government and politicians agree, which is why we are working so hard with them at present on a system of licensing that encourages shooting as a legitimate and effective method of control.
I could go on, but I hope I have given an overview of why this poorly-worded motion doesn’t even scratch the surface of the reality of shooting and why it represents an unfair and unwarranted attack and slur on our community.
As I draw to a conclusion, I think it’s worth pointing out that the RSPB uses shooting to protect vulnerable species. This motion would condemn that.
Shooting puts healthy, nutritious, sustainable food on our tables. This motion would condemn that.
Shooting is used to protect vulnerable crops and livestock. This motion would condemn that.
Shooting is used to professionally manage deer which cause serious accidents on our roads. This motion would condemn that.
Shooting keeps people in jobs. This motion would condemn that.
If the motion is passed, you will have no idea who you are offending, whose goodwill you are destroying and what future investment might be jeopardised by the reputational damage to the council and the city.