A new coalition is ready to take on the critics of field sports
IAN BOTHAM23 July 2021 • 6:00am
It is very satisfying to announce the failure of your opponents. Yet today I can say with great confidence that those obsessives who have been trying to ban game shooting have lost the battle. The big development has been in your local supermarkets – Sainsbury’s, M&S and Waitrose all now stock game meat.
More major chains are set to follow as the public appetite grows. It means that game dealers are approaching the new shooting season with empty freezers and big order books. This is an extraordinary turnaround from the days when game meat was given away. The Great British public are voting with their wallets.
The main reason for this turnaround is the determined push to modernise the industry through its marketing board – the British Game Alliance. Its team is winning over the supermarket and catering sector by getting rid of lead shot – and bad apples. Any shooting estate which doesn’t comply with the rules will end up without a market. Game is now an assured product just like other meats.
Yet there has also been a surprise supporter in the growth of demand for game. Through his ferocious attack on standards in chicken farming, Chris Packham has inadvertently encouraged thousands to switch to eating game.
These ethical consumers consider the cramped conditions in which most chickens are raised during their very short lives and compare them with those of grouse – birds which spend all their lives roaming around the countryside. This ultimate in free-range food is winning.
The fanatics who hate game shooting have also driven a second major change which is securing the industry’s future. Today, the Telegraph reports that a coalition of all the big shooting organisations has been formed. The mass-membership British Association of Shooting and Conservation, the campaigning Countryside Alliance, along with the public affairs experts of the Moorland Association and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation have joined forces. When it comes to shooting we will be aiming in the same direction.
Our patchwork quilt of organisations is uniting to talk to the Government and the media about how shooting can best be regulated to serve the interests of both human beings and the natural world they inhabit. Together as the “Aim to Sustain” coalition, we will push back on areas where we think policy is wrong. For instance, Defra’s decision to restrict the use of winter burns that reduce the height of vegetation will inevitably lead to catastrophic summer wildfires.
Yet we will also be happy to work with Defra on tackling problems that remain. We agree on the need for zero tolerance of the illegal killing of birds of prey while also ensuring that no species gets out of balance. Defra’s inspired scheme for the managed growth of hen harriers has been a brilliant success, with record numbers of these birds.
The haters of shooting have made a strategic mistake in thinking that they could make the sector into fox-hunting Mark II. With fox-hunting, the Marie Antoinette view of the countryside won the day – the public preferring to pretend that foxes don’t slaughter countless birds day and night. And there was no fox pie.
Game shooting is different. It pulls together broad communities to bring in the harvest from the skies. For some, shooting is just a hobby. However, for thousands it is their livelihood – as gamekeepers, hoteliers and taxi drivers.
Managing the countryside is complex – full of difficult choices about which species should be protected from which predators. So our alliance will be working with the pragmatists at Defra on how to maximise the common good. Where there are blinkered ideologues – and they exist in Defra – then we will precisely and relentlessly take on their flaky assertions. The limits they imposed on the culling of common gulls and crows has cost the lives of thousands of endangered curlew and plover. Defra made the wrong choices – these have been a stain on its reputation.
We will also give no quarter to the RSPB. For decades it has made endless cheap accusations against shooting. It has preached at gamekeepers rather than working with these men and women who are responsible for vast swathes of the British landscape.
Attacking shooting appears to have been a policy of distraction by the RSPB’s leadership to divert attention from failings in aspects of their 200 bird reserves. You can only guess the reason why the RSPB stopped publishing its bird numbers 10 years ago. The charity’s seeming unwillingness to control predators means that its reserves are disaster zones for breeding birds like hen harriers.
By contrast, the gamekeepers in the new shooting alliance have a great story to tell about the extraordinary diversity of birdlife flourishing on their estates. Now the boot is on the other foot.