Bottom of the shooting league table?

The review of gamebird shooting regulation across Europe carried out for SNH is a cracking read – a real eye-opener. Decision-makers across the UK should study it carefully. What emerges from it is that gamebird shooting in the UK (in all four countries) is way adrift of the European norm in terms of standards of training, testing of basic identification skills, monitoring of impacts, existence and regulation of shooting quotas and financial contribution to the exchequer. We are at or near the bottom of the league table of acceptable shooting regulation. Not really any surprise there.

Shooters in the UK get a pretty free ride compared with shooters in other countries and that is a result of the archaic legal system in the UK which was largely determined by Victorian land owners who were the shooting community as well (see Inglorious Chapter 2)!  It is clearly time for change, and it looks as if the greatest chance of change is in Scotland with England lagging miles behind.  We English (and Welsh and Northern Irish) should do everything we can to help the Scots move things along as a test of what can be achieved.

Now, quite honestly, I remain sceptical about the ability of regulation to get a grip of the manifold ills of intensive land use management and wildlife crime for driven grouse shooting, but I do think that, in theory, regulation could make a difference to the sustainability and acceptability of shooting as a whole. I have no particular wish to see gamebird shooting disappear completely from the UK countryside, that has never been my aim although, if all the shooters hung up their guns and took up train-spotting as an alternative hobby then that would also be fine by me.  But if UK shooting were regulated more along the lines of many other countries, including the US and Canada, there would be much less of an ‘us and them’ flavour to many debates.

It is in the interests of gamebird shooters that they begin to recognise that they are are an isolated and rather small interest group that appears to be represented by organisations and media outlets that have decided to act in the most arrogant, aggressive and unfriendly way to the 95+% of the population who do not shoot wildlife for fun.  For many years it has been in the interests of all shooters that they should give ground on lead ammunition, vicarious liability, snares, the shooting of declining species etc etc and yet the shooters have dug in and lost more and more friends as time has gone on. And that includes me, for example, who, whilst never a great fan of shooting for fun was nowhere near as concerned about it as I am now after a couple of decades of trying to persuade the industry to change with little success and being insulted along the way.  It has been the killer-zealots who have made me more concerned about shooting, not the eco-zealots.

So I do think that people who shoot wildlife for fun should read this report very carefully. Wildfowlers and lowland gamebird shooters wouldn’t have a great deal to lose by moving rapidly towards the European norm and, resistant to change though they might be, they would benefit from that move in terms of the relationship with much of the public.

In the uplands it is a different matter and I can’t see regulation working very well or being accepted by grouse shooters. This is, of course, a very good reason for trying it as once it has been tried and shown to fail there really is no alternative except to ban of driven grouse shooting.  Lowland shooters and wildfowlers will be led to believe that all shooters are in this together and there will be talk of thin ends of wedges, but the interests of all shooters really aren’t the same and it is the upland killer-zealots who have the most to fear from stronger regulation.

In looking at regulation there are a couple of thoughts I’d like to put in your mind as you read the report.

First, the vested interests within society, and the UK parliaments, in favour of shooting are pretty strong. Do not, for one moment, believe that getting better regulation of gamebird shooting is the same as getting good regulation of gamebird shooting.  In terms of regulation it is good to hope for the best but wise to expect something that falls far short of the best and sometimes approaches the ‘pretty hopeless really’.  That’s not a reason not to try – but it is a reason to be cautious about what can realistically be achieved.

Second, although it will be tempting for some, the aim of regulation is not punishment of all but better behaviour of all, particularly those behaving worst at the moment.  So, massive licence fees, identification tests that many birders would fail, overly bureaucratic bag reporting and/or ridiculously low quotas for huntable species are not what we should be seeking through this mechanism.  It is not banning by the back door. I want to see driven grouse shooting banned and the easiest, most straightforward and honest way to do that is to ban it – not to attempt to strangle it in regulation.



Tim Melling – Great Black Hawk

This is an adult Great Black Hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga) the split second before snatching a fish from the water.  Its bizarre scientific name urubitinga is a native Brazilian (Tupi) word for this bird.  It is found in wooded and watery habitats throughout Central and South America.

Taken with Nikon D500 Nikkor 300mm f4 lens  f4                1/1600 ISO 560



Shooting wildlife for fun – weakly regulated and weakly supported

On the day when the Scottish Government’s review of regulation of gamebird hunting across Europe is published (I will blog about this tomorrow – I’ll read it between rugby matches today) it is worth noting that Chris Packham’s e-petition asking for a moratorium on shooting of seriously declining wader species has passed the signature total of the petition in favour of grouse shooting which closed, or ground to a halt, recently.

There really is little evidence that shooting wildlife for fun is particularly popular in this country, despite the claims of a vocal and aggressive number of pro-shooting organisations. When the public is asked, then the evidence suggests that there are many who want to see far better regulation and control of many aspects of shooting. Eventually politicians will have to reform the outdated, antiquated regulation of various aspects of shooting to avoid looking out of touch – it is time to move regulation of shooting from the nineteenth century into the twenty-first century.

Chris’s petition is on 25,352 signatures with about a month still to go.

The pro grouse shooting petition closed on 25,322 signatures despite being widely promoted in shooting magazines and by shooting organisations (by the way, a petition to ban driven grouse shooting received 123,077 signatures).



Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill




And Mark adds:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke



Isn’t Suffolk lovely?

I spoke at The Cut in Suffolk on Tuesday evening to the Waveney Bird Club and anyone else who wanted to come along. As is often the case with my talks, there was one shooting enthusiast looking, I have to say, a bit sour and taking notes as I spoke. I wonder whether local shooters have to draw lots to see who comes along to keep an eye on me! But all are welcome.

There were a lot of other friendly faces in the audience – faces I’ve seen at Hen Harrier Days over the years, some RSPB friends and on this occasion some World Land Trust folk too.

I enjoyed the evening and at least some of the audience did too judging from the remarks afterwards and these tweets:

@MarkAvery was a captivating & entertaining speaker this evening & put his case rationally & with conviction Thanks Mark & @WaveneyBirdClub (from @OrnieJoolz)

As a result of the talk last night, I have just written to my MP. First time, but NOT the last… (from @Julianrkirk)

If there are one or two people that are activated through hearing me speak each time then that’s a great reward for the time it takes.

And then on Wednesday I spent some time with the World Land Trust chatting to John and Viv Burton and a range of other staff. What a good crowd. And see here for Steve Backshall and Helen Glover’s fundraising scheme for WLT.

There was a Sparrowhawk over Halesworth Station as I left and a pair of Pintail as we reached Manningtree station.

Me speaking at The Cut on Tuesday evening. Photo: Dan Bradbury