Guest Blog by Ed Hutchings, ex-shooter

Ed the Birder

Ed Hutchings the birder

Born in East Anglia, but raised in the Arabian Gulf, Ed Hutchings was always going to have two things – itchy feet and an inquisitive mind. After leaving university with a degree in hospitality, he embarked on a career as a sommelier for a decade, working at various Michelin-star restaurants; in the process winning the prestigious sommelier competition UK Torres Quizmaster in 2004.

Ed eventually decided that wildlife was his true passion in life and he went into conservation. After working for the RSPB at Symonds Yat Peregrine viewpoint in Gloucestershire and surveying Nightingales for the British Trust for Ornithology, his writing started to take centre stage. What started out as a casual column in a local village rag, escalated to writing articles for Bird Watching and Nature’s Home, as well as contributing to several other publications. He also leads tours worldwide for David Lindo TUB Tours, Greenwings Wildlife Holidays and The Travelling Naturalist.

Ed is passionate about birds and their ecology, with a particular interest in raptors. He is also fascinated by bird vocalisations and takes pleasure in committing new ones to memory. Above all, conservation is closest to his heart and the preservation of the wilder reaches of our planet.

“Whether peer or postman, tipster or tycoon,
Heed these words of warning otherwise you’ll soon
Realise what happens in most every court –
‘Ignorance of Law’ can mean ‘Farewell to your Sport’.”

ANON

 

In the early eighties, whilst my family were living in the United Arab Emirates, the jazz musician and broadcaster Humphrey Lyttelton stopped off at our humble village on his British Council tour of the Middle East. In the early hours of the morning, he was to be seen wandering the desert sands armed with a pair of binoculars. ‘Humph’ was indulging in one of his favourite pastimes – birding. It was an interest which grew as a child when he lived in the English countryside and accompanied gamekeepers as they patrolled the big estates. As he told the Khaleej Times at the time: “I went armed with a gun, but my heart was never in it and I gave that up as soon as I decently could.”

Ed the Shot

Ed Hutchings the shot

Humph grew up in very privileged surroundings. He was born at Eton where his father was a housemaster. His grandfather was the 8th Viscount Cobham, whose family seat is the handsome Palladian mansion of Hagley Hall in Worcestershire. Whilst my background is considerably more modest in comparison, his experience mirrors my own. I once told people that “I used to shoot myself”, until I realised it didn’t sound very healthy. I came from solid Oxfordshire yeoman stock that had shot for generations. My grandfather was a good friend of the editor of the Shooting Times and author of ‘The Young Shot’, N. M. Sedgwick. I even worked on a game farm for a whole summer after leaving school and before starting university. It was in my blood and there to stay. Or so I thought.

The shooting lobby often like to rebut arguments against driven game shooting by branding the opposition as ‘lefties’ and ‘townies’. Personally, I am an ex-public schoolboy, who once voted Tory and shot driven game several times a year. We are often accused of meddling with their countryside, despite the majority of us living within it most of our lives. But as Mark recently demonstrated on his blog (see here and here), more people signed his e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting from Conservative rather than Labour seats and from rural rather than urban seats. That must have made uncomfortable reading.

Another argument often centres on tradition. As if something historical cannot be challenged. How many obsolete laws no longer exist? How many of the great landowners’ houses have had to be patched up over the centuries? Nothing lasts for ever. I’m all for tradition, and a monarchist to boot, but it has to be for the greater good of all concerned. Is the British countryside suitable for driven game shooting in the 21st century? As species continue to decline at an alarming rate, we should be throwing all of our collective energies into conservation. It’s time to start putting something back.

Man has sought game and wildfowl for centuries, initially for food and latterly for recreation. Game shooting became more popular in the 18th and 19th centuries when shotguns were improved. This era also saw the rise of the gamekeeper, employed by the landowner to protect game by any means necessary. Coverts and other habitats were managed in order to be more suited to game. Mantraps were employed on perimeters to deter poachers. ‘Vermin’ such as foxes, corvids and birds of prey were culled almost to extirpation in some areas. The gamekeeper’s gibbet still provides the most macabre of scenes to anyone unfortunate to witness it. All for the sake of recreation or ‘sport’.

Is it sporting to shoot something that has been driven from cover and directed towards you? I have often wondered that as I stood there with gamebirds streaming overhead. I have seen many a pheasant maimed and die an agonising death, fluttering on the ploughed earth behind me. I am still haunted by those birds I didn’t ‘kill’. Friends have told me harrowing tales of deer being shot, despite strict instructions not to fire at ground game. A messy and protracted death with dogs usually follows. A few bad apples maybe, but the joke is wearing thin now. No animal deserves to suffer.

What happens to all these birds after the shoots? Each gun and beater is given a brace and some go to game dealers, but I have seen numerous carcasses rotting in sheds. On some of the bigger shoots, the bags are so excessive that there have been instances of hundreds of birds being incinerated. How can we square these actions in this day and age, especially when people are still going hungry?

Since The Wildlife and Countryside Act came into force thirty-four years ago, some of the bird species that are permitted to be shot in their respective open seasons have declined considerably. Snipe and Woodcock are the best examples of these but one really has to ask whether Golden Plover remain a valid quarry species for shooting too. Maybe they’re considered a delicacy in some far-flung parts of the British Isles, but I failed to find any recipes online. I suspect it is their prestigious swiftness that warranted their inclusion in the first place. A question about the flight speed of Golden Plover (now known to be up to 60mph) during a shooting party in Wexford prompted Sir Hugh Beaver (then chairman of the brewery) to found the Guinness Book of Records in 1955.

Even stranger is the appearance of the humble Coot and Moorhen on the list of permissible quarry species. Neither is renowned eating, nor going to give you much ‘sport’. Utterly pointless. Yet the greatest concern comes from a pair of gamebirds that are Red-listed Birds of Conservation Concern – the Grey Partridge and the Black Grouse – and therefore threatened species. On their website, The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust offer this advice for ‘conserving’ Grey Partridge:

SIX GOLDEN RULES FOR GAME SHOOTERS

1 Do not shoot wild grey partridges if you have fewer than 20 birds per 250 acres (100 hectares) in the autumn. Below this level the population has little ability to compensate for shooting losses.
2 Stop shooting wild grey partridges as soon as the threshold of 20 birds per 250 acres (100 hectares) is reached, for the same reason.
3 Avoid shooting grey partridges after the end of December. Birds pair up in the New Year and shooting at this time reduces the breeding stock.
4 Never shoot at grey partridges that are in pairs.
5 With driven red-leg or pheasant shooting, take special precautions to ensure that wild greys are not shot at the same time.
• Warn the guns if grey partridges are likely to be on the drive.
• Tell the guns to watch out for higher birds in tight coveys that might be greys. Tell them, if in doubt, not to shoot. Perhaps fine them if they shoot greys!
• Arrange a system of whistles for beaters to warn guns that greys have been flushed – their distinctive call also helps to identify them. Have observers in the line of guns to do the same.

6 DO NOT SHOOT GREY PARTRIDGES AT ALL UNLESS YOU ALSO TAKE STEPS TO CONSERVE THEM

Apart from the incredulously nonsensical and counterproductive final statement, I find this list deeply concerning. How can these ‘golden rules’ possibly be enforced? In the heat of the action, and I am speaking from experience, very few shots are going to be able to distinguish between the two partridges, especially a covey going at speed and at height. Fine them? More like a bit of gentle ragging over the lunchtime port. Here’s what the GWCT have to say on conserving Black Grouse:

Black grouse and shooting: a sportsman’s code

Black grouse are legal quarry and may be shot in season (20 August to 10 December). But sustainable shooting is possible only where productivity is high.

Therefore do not shoot unless
• Spring counts show that leks always have more than 15 males each year, and that overall there are two cocks for every 100 hectares of suitable habitat.
• August counts with dogs show that there are more than three young per hen at the end of summer, taking an average of at least 10 broods.
• Surveys on neighbouring ground show similar good numbers of birds.
• There is a programme of predation control and habitat improvement in place.

If you do shoot
• Shoot only cocks – avoid greyhens.
• Don’t shoot in September. Wait until October or November when cocks finish moulting.
• Make sure all guns can identify greyhens and don’t confuse them with red grouse.
• Never shoot more than 15% of the spring stock of cock birds.
• Provide details of the shoot and the spring and autumn counts to the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Code for bird watchers
Lekking blackcock are a natural ‘must see’ for bird watchers. But…
• Never approach displaying birds on foot. Watch from a car parked over 100 metres away. Set up before daybreak and do not disturb them by opening doors or starting the engine.
• When walking in areas frequented by black grouse, keep to footpaths and keep dogs on leads.

Once again, difficult to implement and enforce. Only the sharpest eyes on the moor will be able to distinguish between a greyhen and a Red Grouse. It’s good of them to provide a code of conduct for birders though. Poor things must be stressed out after all that shooting and we don’t want to make matters worse. The Red-listed Capercaillie was responsibly moved to the Schedule 1 list in 2001.

It is interesting to note that Jack Snipe is shot in Northern Ireland but protected elsewhere in Britain. Coot and Moorhen are protected in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man but shot elsewhere in Britain. The Isle of Man is also the only place to protect both Golden Plover and Grey Partridge. Not only that. They have a healthy population of breeding Hen Harriers on the island that are completely free of persecution. A model for the future perhaps? Here’s to the common sense of the Manx.

Then there are the ‘ground game’. Lagomorphs such as Brown and Mountain Hares are declining, but did you know that the European Rabbit is now classed as Near Threatened? I am concerned that the increases in sightings of European Polecat and Pine Marten in England will be tempered by more people trapping these delightful mustelids. The Pine Marten is officially protected, but that means very little in the eyes of some, as we have discovered when it comes to protected birds of prey.

Bird of prey persecution in the UK increased dramatically during the 19th century when game shooting became more widespread. As early as 1808, the 1st Marquess of Bute required all keepers to swear an oath of employment to “…use my best endeavour to destroy all birds of prey with their nests”. Five of our fifteen breeding birds of prey (Goshawk, Honey Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Osprey and White-tailed Eagle) were driven to extinction before the end of the Great War. During the two World Wars gamekeeping declined as men of fighting age were drafted to the fronts. (The stalking skills of ghillies were particularly popular with Scottish Regiments and they were regularly deployed as snipers.) This resulted in less persecution and raptor numbers began to increase. Full legal protection for all species came in 1954 (bar the Sparrowhawk which was protected from 1963).

Sixty years on, things have improved dramatically. When I was a boy growing up in East Anglia, I had to travel to the West Country or Wales if I wanted to see a Buzzard. Now several inhabit the environs of my Suffolk village alone and I regularly see Red Kites to boot. And yet the dark days of raptor persecution haven’t left us completely. Numerous cases of poisonings and shootings are still depressingly regular. The shooting community offers the ‘few bad apples’ analogy but it doesn’t wash anymore. How many industries regularly flout the law and get away with it? The law is pitifully lenient on the rare few that get caught and is no real deterrent. Friends in high places no less.

I do realise that a certain species require to be controlled. The introduced Grey Squirrel and American Mink have had a severely detrimental effect on the environment. Likewise, the rampant deer population in the British Isles needs to be addressed, particularly the non-native species of Chinese Water Deer, Reeves’ Muntjac and Sika. Deer have probably never been so abundant in Britain and, in some regions, numbers are so excessive that they are having a pernicious impact on the flora and the natural regeneration of woodland. Lynx reintroduction would keep this in check.

The RSPB’s chief executive, Dr Mike Clarke, recently called on those within the shooting industry to take responsibility for both the positive and negative impacts their industry has on the wider public interest, including biodiversity and the natural environment. One of the key trends he talked about was the marked increase in the intensity of management on some driven grouse moors in the uplands, especially in England. Mark has written plenty about this of late, so I have nothing to add.

Let us look at the other key trend he spoke of – the continuing increase in gamebirds released into the environment – now well over 50 million birds a year. Mike said: “It is ecologically naive (at best!) to think that you can introduce this amount of biomass – of a similar magnitude to the biomass of all the wild birds in the countryside – without any impact on native species populations and food webs.” A beak of food for a pheasant is a beak less for a native bird, despite the supplementary winter feeding provided for gamebirds. What right do they have to this food whilst others struggle?

One of the biggest arguments for driven game shooting is the amount of money and communities it supports. According to ‘Public and Corporate Economic Consultants’ (PACEC), “shooting is worth £2 billion to the UK economy (GVA)” and “supports the equivalent of 74,000 full-time jobs”. A drop in the ocean with regards the entire economy and working sector. Yet does this justify its existence on the back of its ethics? We’re told that, “nearly two million hectares are actively managed for conservation as a result of shooting” and “shoot providers spend nearly £250 million a year on conservation”. I’m sorry – on targeted conservation work or managing habitat suitable for gamebirds? It’s becoming a little muddled here. Yet that’s not all. Apparently, “shooters spend 3.9 million work days on conservation – the equivalent of 16,000 full-time jobs”. Do they give up their spare time willingly, like the thousands of volunteers assisting wildlife charities around the UK?

What is this conservation work they speak of? Landowners that participate in field sports claim they are more likely to conserve and reinstate woodlands and hedgerows because they are utilised by quarry species. A study in 2003 showed that they are around a quarter more likely to plant new woodlands than landowners without game or hunting interests, and also conserve a far greater woodland area. Subsequently, they suggest that field sports can provide valuable tools for wildlife conservation in the UK, without the need for governmental subsidies or protective legislation.

My ‘Handbook of Shooting’, published by The British Association for Shooting and Conservation in 1983, states that “A keepered environment sustains a greater overall wildlife population then an unkeepered environment. The reason for this is that the gamekeeper, whilst looking after the interests of the game population by creating or protecting existing habitat and killing vermin which predate upon game, is providing habitat and protected surroundings for songbirds, wild animals and plants. In this way he is making a valuable contribution to the conservation of the countryside.”

The same handbook proclaims “excessive management of, for example, a woodland habitat for Pheasants, or a pond for Mallard, can sometimes harm other wildlife species.” Never has a truer word been spoken. A couple of years ago, I spent a whole spring researching Nightingales for the BTO in East Anglia. Of all the numerous and wide-ranging habitats I surveyed, the only one that produced no evidence of Nightingales was that land that was clearly used for driven game shooting. Not only that, I found them to be the quietest overall and distinctly lacking in wildlife generally.

Landowners may undertake management measures to improve habitats for quarry species, including shrub planting, coppicing and sky lighting to encourage denser undergrowth. Yet this doesn’t necessarily result in higher abundances of native birds. Overall evidence that game shooting is beneficial to wider biodiversity has been inconclusive: high densities of gamebirds are known to negatively impact ecosystems, resulting in shorter grassland vegetation, lower floral diversity in semi-natural woodlands, fewer saplings in hedgerows leading from such woodlands and possible reductions in arthropod biomass attributable to predation. I have never been completely convinced.

I have been privileged to enjoy much of Europe’s countryside in my line of work. Apart from the distinct lack of Pheasants, what strikes me most is that vast tracts of the landscape are not ‘keepered’ and yet full of birds. They are lands where corvids, raptors and songbirds live in harmony. Where each of them is appreciated as a cog in a delicate ecosystem. Some of these countries are not without their own problems – the illegal hunting of migrants in the Mediterranean is a particularly long-established and thorny issue. But on the whole, their landscape is scruffier and richer for it.

The only other country worldwide that takes driven game shooting seriously is the United States and they only release 10 million birds a year – a fifth of what we unleash into our countryside. Driven game shooting in this country is so tied up in tradition that it has pervaded our consciousness as something acceptable – the norm. But if we stop and think about the ethics for one moment, about the endless slaughter of gamebirds and their predators, we have to ask ourselves where this ends?

Is it acceptable for us to behave in this manner for ever? This is not shooting to survive. It is killing in the name of ‘sport’ and there are detrimental consequences for the environment. I also tire of witnessing the endless dead pheasants that litter our roads. Such a senseless waste of life. I become further disillusioned by the aggression vented by the shooting community in response to perfectly rational questions levelled at their choice of recreation. A psychologist would argue that it is the behaviour of those that have something to hide. All for the sake of this peculiarly British tradition of driven game shooting that had its heyday in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. This blog may have raised more questions than it may have answered. Provoking thought is no bad thing. The pertinent question remains – is driven game shooting relevant and righteous in 21st century Britain?

A Colchester game dealer's window

A Colchester game dealer’s window

46 Comments

  1. John Stone says:

    An absolutely superb blog. Thankyou, Ed.

  2. IC says:

    I find it fascinating that there are so many stories out there of people who shoot when they are young but give it up when they are older and, presumably, wiser. This very rarely seems to happen the other way around. You dont hear of many birders who decide to take it up as an extension to their hobby. Whilst I’m not entirely anti shooting myself (though I have no interest in taking part) I find that as I get older the arguments against it become stronger in my mind and I would struggle more and more to defend it. Again, that seems to be a not uncommon pattern. I wonder why this is?

    • Mark says:

      IC – I agree. It does seem to be a common change of emphasis.

      And I am drifting from not-bothered to quite-bothered to…who knows where about shooting myself.

      This trajectory is made all the easier because so many of the supporters of shooting on social media are so unpleasant and rude.

    • filbert cobb says:

      The rationalisation of inactivity is the body’s way of reminding you its telomeres are wearing out

      • Jonathan Wallace says:

        Maybe so but I don’t think that becoming less tolerant of shooting can be construed as the rationalistion of inactivity or that giving up shooting inevitably means becoming less active. Or am I missing your point?

  3. Rob Seago says:

    Thank you for an interesting and informative article.

    I don’t like hosting so many pheasants on the nature reserve I look after as they move in over the winter from the neighbouring fields. Large areas under trees are scrapped up as they consume seeds and probably insect grubs.

    I also don’t like seeing spent cartridges on my patch, clearly fired in the night. When a four wheel drive got stuck overnight, the police would not tell me the name of the owner. These people feel entitled to carry on their activities with no respect for anyone else.

    • Jane says:

      I quite agree, Rob. Pheasants also swarm into my garden and eat my fruit, veg and invertebrates. Are the pheasant-breeders going to compensate me for my losses? Perhaps I’m entitled to exterminate all pheasants within a 10 mile radius of my estate, and get public subsidies for it?

  4. Ewan Miles says:

    A brilliant post thank you Ed.

  5. Ross Mason says:

    Great blog Ed. I too have a shooting background and I too have turned my back on it. I was brought up in the countryside on a small holding and rough shooting for food was the norm. I did enjoy my childhood and living off the land seemed the ideal and right way to live. Fast forward a few years and I ended up with an interest in the gamekeeping world. When I was younger and much more inocent, that way of life appealed to me a great deal. I had only scratched the surface and wasnt aware of all that went on. When it came to work experience time at school, I managed to get a placement on a big estate. Overall I did enjoy my time there, but a few things happened that made me question if it was right for me (or right full stop!) My eyes were opened and I witnessed for the first time the mass scale of killing. A stand out moment was when the head gamekeepers father, who was the head keeper before his son, said to me in a moment of reflection that ‘he regretted all the killing’. I thought this a strange thing for him to say at the time, but those words stuck in my head and he had sown the seeds of doubt in my mind (thank you so much sir!)

    Later on I did business studies at sixth form but didnt follow them up and after finishing sixth form, I somehow I ended up at agricultural collage studying gamekeeping. Stupid decision, if only I could go back in time and have a word with my younger self! Anyhow, it was during my time at college I knew that this world was not for me, my feelings towards the shooting world quickly turned to disgust. There were some good aspects and some nice people, but for me, the bad and shady aspects far outweighed the good.

    I abandoned everything I had to do with the shooting world and haven’t looked back since. Amazingly for all of the time I spent in that world I didn’t kill much at all. But when I did, killing was never something I enjoyed, it’s just not in me. It made me feel bad, it made me feel guilty. Probably because of those guilty feelings I didn’t have much to do with the countryside and nature for years, I just stayed away. But a couple of years ago I ventured out into nature again and discovered the joys of birding. I can honestly say enjoying nature and showing it the respect it deserves has made me the happiest I have ever been. And now, thanks to twitter, I am proud to be part of a movement that campaigns for nature and wildlife. It feels good, it feels right, it feels natural!

    • Mark says:

      Ross – thank yous o much for that comment. It’s not only interesting it is also moving. thank you.

      • Marian says:

        I agree on both counts.

        It might be a mystery to some why a transition from killing to regretting ‘all the killing’ takes place as people age, but a question many of us in the AW/AR world have is why anyone wants to kill in the first place.

        If people find pleasure in killing humans, they are considered immoral and disturbed.

        I don’t see why it should be any different when the prey is a defenceless animal, bird, fish, et al? They have as much right to live – usually in their own habitats, not ours – as we do.

      • Ross Mason says:

        Thank you for your kind words Mark. I’m glad I have shared my story. I do regret accidentally hitting the ‘dislike’ button though, oops!

    • Paul Frost says:

      Great story Ross. You are a man with a conscience and empathy. In psychology, people who lack these attributes (people who enjoy killing) are deemed psychopaths.

  6. Ernest Moss says:

    An interesting Blog Ed – many thanks.

    I have on occasion partaken in driven pheasant shooting, although not for many years. I doubt I ever will again – it no longer holds any appeal. I still enjoy the occasional bit of walked-up ‘rough’ shooting but my golden rule is to only shoot an animal I intend to eat (rabbit, pheasant, wood-pigeon) – moorhen’s and coot’s certainly don’t feature on my menu and only a total moron would shoot snipe or woodcock. And I only ever take a shot when near 100% certain of a clean kill.

    I trained for two years as a gamekeeper before reading my degree in conservation and ecology, and like you my outlook has certainly changed over the years.

    Although I agree with most of the points you make, I don’t share your concern about the grey partridge. They are red-listed due to habitat loss/deterioration as a result of modern farming practices – not because a few blokes in tweed elect to shoot them.
    In my experience, one is much more likely to find decent numbers of greys on lowland farmland land used for responsible shooting than on land where no shooting takes place at all, as the habitat is likely to be better in terms of more insect-rich habitat, weedy stubbles, wild-bird seed crops, tussocky south-facing margins for nesting etc etc. The habitat has to be A1 in order to have any hope of achieving a shootable surplus – unlike pheasant shooting.

    ‘Partridges’ by the great Dick Potts is an interesting read, Chapter 10 in particular.

    Your last paragraph asks some pertinent questions, and you are quite right to parenthesise the word sport. It’s not sport when it involves animals.

    • Ed Hutchings says:

      Many thanks Ernest. However, I should point out that I’m not implying that Grey Partridge are threatened due to shooting. My point is that such a declining species could do without this added pressure. I have found plenty of Greys on land not used for shooting. Much of the species’ original habitat is now under agriculture, as you say, but it appears to be reasonably adaptable to some less intensive practices. I realise that some estates, such as Holkham, make concerted efforts to ‘conserve’ Greys, but if the future of the species lies in the hands of the shooting fraternity then I think we’re in trouble.

      • Ernest Moss says:

        Thanks Ed.

        Sadly our lowland farmed landscapes are in big trouble – of that there can be little doubt!

        And yes of course I do still find good numbers of Greys on land not used for shooting, but generally only were the land is being well managed, generally with well designed and delivered agri-environment agreements. These farms are sadly in the minority and will be set to remain so in the new CSS era.

        I’m still not convinced that shooting Greys adds added pressure when carried out responsibly and based in good habitat management. Look at the results at Peppering Partridge Project in Sussex. Good habitat management increased the number of breeding greys from 3 in 2003 to 292 in 2014. At the same time corn bunting, lapwing and skylark have also flourished as well as a significant increase in raptor numbers.

        • Ed Hutchings says:

          Point taken, thanks. Yet I still feel, particularly in the long-term, that we need more of what you touch on in your middle paragraph and less of the latter.

  7. Jonathan Wallace says:

    “I become further disillusioned by the aggression vented by the shooting community in response to perfectly rational questions levelled at their choice of recreation.”

    Yes, we are repeatedly told that gamekeepers who persecute raptors are a small minority who are reviled by the rest of the community but the words and actions of the shooting community as a whole belie this. As a case in point, I occasionally sneak a peak inside Shooting Times on the supermarket shelf to see what it is saying about conservation issues and was shocked at the exultation when a gamekeeper who had been caught bang to rights on video persecuting raptors got off on a technicality. No condemnation of the gamekeeper or of the crime, just glee that the RSPB had been knocked back.
    You Forgot the Birds may be the loony extreme logical end point of anti-RSPB sentiment within shooting but it seems they are far from alone in seeking to peddle the myth that conservationists are ignorant townies with no knowledge or understanding of the countryside and a leftist political agenda.

    PS I have eaten coot once many years ago (not a shot one!) and as I recall it was very tasty! I hasten to add that I am not trying to suggest it should be a quarry species!

    • Jay says:

      It’s still dead, though, the Coot, isn’t it? Do you think it felt better it was slaughtered for your table rather then shot for your table?

  8. Phil Aisthorpe says:

    When I was at school in Lincolnshire in the 1960’s I had a Saturday job as a beater on the local pheasant shoot. My enduring memories are of the camaraderie with the other lads, eating carrots straight from the field and less pleasant, wading through wet kale, being confined in the back of an overcrowded Land Rover with a pair of wet smelly dogs and worst of all, having to pick up and kill injured birds. We were paid 30 shillings (£1.50) for the day. It doesn’t sound a lot, but with beer costing only 2 shillings a pint (10p) it was good money and easily financed a riotous Saturday night out.

    These are great memories and are a little bit of who I am, but they, along with driven shooting belong in the past, consigned to history.

  9. There is another aspect of driven shooting, that is frequently overlooked, the impact on people who live in the countryside.

    Just as there is no restraint on the number of pheasants put into the countryside each year, nor is there any restraint on landowners as to where pheasants are put or shot. Land/shoot owners are at liberty to release and shoot pheasants where ever they wish on their land.

    Consequently rural home owners can find themselves ‘plagued’ by pheasants. Where there are pheasants near homes there are not only pens, cover crops and shooting drives but also gamekeepers, thoughtless landowners and selfish shooters – a recipe for menace, intimidation and great sadness.

    For those interested, or who share similar experiences, http://www.commondecency.co.uk is a case study. Since the website was put into the public domain, some of the consequences have been mitigated however others remain unaddressed.

    It seems the will of a man to kill for fun precedes common decency.

    • Jane says:

      I couldn’t agree more about the plagues of pheasants. There is also the invasive noise of shooting – summer evenings have regularly been ruined by the racket of gunshots circling the village this year. The arrogance and selfishness of shooters knows no bounds.

  10. Coop says:

    Great blog Ed.

    As I’ve stated here before, my old man was a keen shooter, and one-time gamekeeper. I remember being taken out to watch the local hunt at about six years old, and also going out with him to set/check mole traps. He even showed me (to my eternal shame) how to set Roach livebait for Pike. He tried his best to encourage me to follow his examples, but he buggered off when I was twelve, so I wasn’t subjected to anymore of his bullshit.

  11. Chris Green says:

    Thank you Ed for exposing just how rotten the shooting industry is.

  12. Mark W says:

    I enjoyed reading the blog post and agree with so much. I was a shepherd on a large estate in the 80s and was ‘expected’ to beat on a shooting day. But I could always find sheep work to divert me so I managed to never be available. I did however stray near the shoot one day and stopped to watch the guns. The majority of pheasants got shot and slowly got lower and lower as others shot at the same bird. I reckon most birds crash landed for dogs to collect due to weight overload – clean or quick it was not, frankly cruel and ghastly to see!

  13. MK says:

    Just to say great blog Ed

  14. Despite McKenzie says:

    Interesting stuff, Ed. Thanks for sharing on Mark’s blog in particular. It’s the correct place for it. I guess It was inevitable that someone like yourself, with a staunch background in shooting, would come along and put their experiences into words for others. Well done, Sir.

    You’ll, no doubt, get a bit of flak. Worth it though.

  15. Billyo says:

    Well, seeing as its coming out time….

    I have flirted with shooting on a number of occasions up until a few years ago. Never formal driven pheasants, just rough shooting and wildfowling. Similar to another poster, I only took what I wanted to eat, and frequently returned with nothing. I always felt conflicted when I took a life. I am a meat eater, I enjoy eating meat and I know meat comes from a living animal. This, and the fact that what I shot was the ultimate in free range provided the counter argument to my feelings of discomfort.

    I have to say at this point that all the people I shot with were law abiding and despised those who broke the law, but they acknowledged it happened.

    However I also found myself conflicted with the attitude of much of the shooting brigade towards the RSPB, the WWT and anyone involved in conservation. In addition to being a birder I am also a qualified (well I have qualifications in it) conservationist/ecologist yet I frequently heard or read opinions that we (conservationists) did not know how to manage the countryside and that the old country ways were the best. Science was often disregarded when it did not fit with the desired ends, and anyone who might be considered an ‘anti’ was derided. There was no ‘lets work together’ attitude. It was more like the people I encountered were scared that anti’s might take away their sport. This highlighted to me that the divide between hunters/shooters and conservationists was no longer a divide, it was a gulf, and I knew which side I wanted to be on. Some of the rude, nasty or plain and simple ignorant comments I have seen made by some of the shooting brigade, particularly when they cannot answer a question – or don’t like what the answer would be – have confirmed that my decision was correct. Some of the comments defy belief.

    I haven’t shot in years. I am still friends with people who shoot, and I have huge respect for the knowledge that some of them have. I similarly still eat meat and am not ‘anti shooting’. However, to me the whole shooting ‘industry’ needs to undertake a massive PR exercise if it is to survive much longer. People, I think, understand the one for the pot principle, but increasingly see driven shooting, persecution of raptors and other predators, release of non-native species etc etc as being non-compatible with modern life.

    The attitudes displayed around Hen Harriers have made me even more vociferous in my determination to see raptor persecution stopped altogether. If banning driven grouse shooting is the way to start then I’m right behind it. And I would have signed that petition if I had still been shooting.

    • Jonathan Wallace says:

      Good points Billyo. With respect to your comment, though, that “…to me the whole shooting ‘industry’ needs to undertake a massive PR exercise if it is to survive much longer” I would say that the industry already runs a massive PR campaign and, if the You Forgot the Birds end of it seems laughably amateur, I’d suggest that overall it is pretty effective- at least in those corners of government that count. To my mind it is not PR that we need to see from the shooting industry but a wholesale change of attitudes and practices. The industrialised approach to hunting (why is it deemed necessary to shoot hundreds of birds in a day?) and all the practices – legal and illegal – that go with it need to be rethought if it is ever to be considered a sustainable activity.

      • Billyo says:

        Yes, Jonathan. I’d agree that they run a good PR campaign in those political circles. I was thinking more in terms of persuading the general public – i.e. you and me and the man on the street that the current practices have changed and more sustainable shooting (without the illegal element) is the norm. So I guess I agree with all you say really.

  16. John Stone says:

    I have gone beating on a family member’s shoot on a few occasions, and to be honest I’m not ethically or philosophically (are they the same?) opposed to shooting. However I’m increasingly finding myself questioning the scale of shooting in this country and the direct and indirect effects it has had on biodiversity. I can see shooting come under increasing pressure in the future (the grouse lot are after all just serving to ensure it comes under more and more scrutiny) and I would like to see some serious changes to the way the industry – and it is an industry – operates.

    These might include:
    1) severe regulation of the numbers of game birds, especially young pheasants, released.
    2) more species taken off the game list, especially snipe, woodcock and black grouse.
    3) no shooting or supplementary feeding on land for which agri-environment payments are made.
    4) banning of lead shot.
    5) licensing of shoots, with clarity over responsibility for guns and keepers actions.

    More rough shoots and fewer industrial concerns could have a very positive outcome for biodiversity. Unfortunately, to date the likes of GWCT have been able to frame shooting as an unchallenged positive for biodiversity – we supply habitat so it must be good – and there has been little attempt to look at how excessive provision of feed, maize etc., (as well as ludicrously high pheasant densities) sustain populations of predators and scavengers through the winter at artificially high levels.

    • Mark says:

      John – that lot would be a pretty big blow to lowland shooting.

    • Mud-Lark says:

      With all the carnage on roads how about tagging or ringing the released birds so that any insurance claims can be made against those responsible for any ‘accident’ their sport causes?

      Dogs are micro-chipped, so too horses and livestock have passports these days so perhaps this is the next aspect of an industry requiring attention?

    • Ernest Moss says:

      Wholeheartedly agree with proposals 1,2,4 & 5. No.3 could be a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. We need to properly assess the effects of supplementary feeding, not just for game birds but for a range of species. My feeling is that when carried out responsibly it could be beneficial to other farmland birds. Responsible and hygienic supplementary feeding should be a condition of point 5.

    • Les Wallace says:

      Really good point, it was made at the League Against Cruel Sports Foxycology conference by the RSPB’s Dr Jennifer Smart – google Foxycology videos and watch the one on Managing conflict between ground nesting birds and foxes. Another point with supplimentary feeding is that what is the ecological footprint? Land is farmed to produce the feed which goes to pheasants, and some gets to wild birds which are under pressure from intensive agriculture that is producing the feed in the first place? Maybe I’m a bit thick and missing something (never went to university or nuffink), but there seems to be a bit of a contradiction here that is rarely noted. Maybe we should go the whole hog and just cage all wild birds as pets and convert natural habitat to farmland to feed them. Never having bred pheasants I can’t speak from personal experience, but I believe they can also be fed soymeal – that would indicate that rainforest in South America is cleared for soya to produce birds that are predominantly eaten by wild predators, run over by cars or dumped. When Martin Harper made his relatively positive comments about the potential benefits of shooting for conservation should have been with the proviso that a full ecological assessment needed to be done – what about the gas used to heat pheasant pens as well?

  17. Good blog

    Poetic justice soon to be served on the cruel fiends who perpetrate this wicked nonsense. People are waking up to this, you folks just have to keep up the pressure. Like the ban on foxhunting, it’s going to be a tough battle, but you will get there in the end.

    Amazes me how anyone can defend any of this as sport. Like deer hunting, hair coursing etc etc.

    My aunt was a tenant farmer’s daughter on a farm in Shaftesbury, Dorset. When she was about 16, she was taken on her first deer hunt and blooded. I hope most won’t need reminding or telling of what this would have involved. She was sickened and never did it again. I was sickened just hearing about it. Amazing that all those years ago, she could see the cruelty involved.

    Jules

  18. Mark Hill says:

    Great piece Ed
    I was put off shooting as a young lad when walking on the beach with my Dad who was a keen birder, I found an injured Curlew that had been shot by a wildfowler and was so badly injured that I had to put it out of its misery. The sooner that they ban driven grouse shooting the better. Then we can start managing the moors for all wildlife.

  19. John Miles says:

    But some need to be culled! Grey Squirrel is the food of Pine Marten and Goshawk and the new Buzzard book says ‘ a new food for Buzzards’ You can’t make statements about one thing and then make a balls about another!

    • Ed Hutchings says:

      And that offsets the detrimental effect they have on the environment, does it? Common Buzzard, Northern Goshawk and Pine Martin are all generalist predators with catholic diets and none is reliant on the Grey Squirrel. More to the point, if we were to provide these predators with proper protection, perhaps even encouragement, then Grey Squirrels would be controlled and biodiversity enhanced.

    • Jonathan Wallace says:

      So are you saying John that there are no circumstances in which you would agree to culling of grey squirrels? What about those parts of the country where red squirrels still persist but greys are ‘knocking on the door’?

  20. The Colchester game dealer cannot even spell Wigeon or Shoveler and when did the Grey Partridge become the ‘English’ Partridge??? I’m pretty sure it occurs outwith that small country.

  21. Roger Fenton says:

    Very thought provoking blog! The ‘ignorant townie’ argument is a interesting one – looking at how driven shooting is sold, often as ‘corporate hospitality’ (aka bribery) most of the ‘ignorant townies’ involved are the guns. None of the people I ever known who lived in the countryside have every been on a days driver shooting in there lives – far too expensive. Limited shooting for food is moraly the same as eating some killed by another. But driven game shooting is different, it’s no less than ritualized slaughter, only made to seem acceptable by familularity.

    Roger, Manchester (formerly from the West Sussex countryside).

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