This must be about my 20th Game Fair, so I realised that when it said that it opened at 9am this was just nonsense – soon after 8am I had parked, got a lift on a trailer from the car park to the entrance, paid to enter and then started walking down the hill where this vista opened up in front of me…
You can see it was a bit drizzly on Saturday morning. Aren’t those trees magnificent?
By the way, the Game Fair is as old as I, 56 years, and this was its fifth at Blenheim. I wonder what the first Game Fair was like – when it was a baby?
I always think that the sight of tents and banners on the hill-top must be somewhat reminiscent of a medieval army encamped and waiting for action.
By the time I had walked down the hill, over the bridge (and glanced at some quite evidently expert fly-casting – although I wouldn’t really know) and then walked up the hill and bought myself a cup of coffee it was raining quite hard.
If it had continued in this vein then it would have been a rather miserable day – but by 11 it was scorching!
Some of what happens at the Game Fair is clearly not aimed (geddit) at me. There are quite a lot of people wanting to help you with your wealth and your land, including, of course, the CLA itself…
…but they aren’t the only ones…
…and once they have managed your land and your wealth for you, you’ll want to spend some of your money. How about a day’s (Red) grouse shooting? At a mere £34,000 per day you and some mates could have an ‘unlimited brace’ day’s shooting in North Yorkshire at the end of August (if only my daughter weren’t getting married on the 30th I’d consider it (having had a practice shoot)) but maybe next year. Or maybe I’ll go for the more local 300 Pheasant day in Northamptonshire (just £10,800) at a time to suit in December.
As you can see, everybody loves birds at the Game Fair. In fact, you could get the impression that everyone loves birds of prey, even.
We birders are used to seeing Swarovski advertising their excellent binoculars with the image of the sharp-eyed Goshawk but they are also selling sights to this audience with the same bird – quite funny really.
And we know how keen the Countryside Alliance is on birds of prey – they don’t need to prove it by having a falconer on their stand (but they did go that extra mile to prove it) with American Kestrel (not a pest of game in the UK)…
…and a Gyr Falcon which looked like it felt that it ought to be sitting on an iceberg off Greenland rather than a perch in Oxon…
Not to be outdone, the National Gamekeepers Organisation had some birds of prey on their stand too. The Countryside Alliance had captive birds, the NGO had dead stuffed birds (you couldn’t make it up could you?)…
Note the Turtle Dove – that’s only the second I have seen this year, so far.
There are some moments of humour. The RSPB may have had a committee sitting for weeks to come up with their banner…
…wildlife in your sights (geddit?). And note that the RSPB has a photo of two live Turtle Doves – that’ll be the UK population soon.
This sign genuinely made me smile, although it didn’t make me buy…
…and this one is priceless (provided the authors really did realise what they were doing)…
…which I am sure they did so here is a link to this excellent organisation.
There are no other weekends that I spend, where it hardly raises an eyebrow to see a bloke sitting, sheltering from the rain with his bow and arrows beside him…
Didn’t I tell you that there was a medieval army on the hill?
They seemed quite well-armed but generally pretty friendly to me, even though I am asking you to sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting (which has now passed 8400 signatures). What price 10,000 by the Inglorious 12th?
What sort of people come to the Game Fair – you might (or might not) wonder?
All sorts – although there is more tweed worn at the Game Fair than you will see at most July events with the temperature in the high 20sC.
But judging from the cars parked near mine on my two days at Blenheim…
…it’s a pretty broad range of folk.
And, by the way, I did have a go at clay shooting as I left today – they call it Pay and Clay.
Ten shots and four hits – pretty rubbish really! Although, to be fair to me, I missed the first five and then got four out of the last five so there were signs of improvement. I think it probably helped to close one eye and actually to look down the barrel (maybe I should have started doing that earlier).
So, now I have contributed to the economic ‘benefit’ of shooting to the UK economy – to the tune of a tenner.
Shall I get the four niggles out of the way first? I shall.
I don’t like the title, I’m not drawn in by the cover, the font size is a touch on the small side and the spineside margins of the pages are too small so the text tends to dive into the centre fold in an off-putting way. All of these things are minor, and perhaps personal to me, but each time I looked at the book they put me off a bit.
However, each time I read the book it pleased me greatly, and that’s the main thing.
Conor writes about the passage of the year in a series of blog-like essays. I like the range of subjects and I like the style of writing.
Part of my delight is, no doubt, personal too. Some of the characters are people I know, and some of the settings are places I know too. But even if you haven’t sat in the RSPB Library and been distracted by Chaffinches pecking at the window (as I have) you should find Conor’s account of it, and exploration of it, truly delightful.
There isn’t a story in this book – there are many. They are linked together by the passage of the year and by the thread of Conor’s writing which makes this reader want to read the next, and the next, and the next instalment each time one finishes one.
So, the two things I like are the subject matter and the style of the writing. And those matter most in any book.
Shrewdunnit: the nature files by Conor Mark Jameson is published by Pelagic Publishing.
This year the Game Fair is in the grounds of Blenheim Palace.
The Game Fair could keep a blogger going for full year, but let me tell you about some sensible people I met today.
Today, Saturday, is ‘Conservation’ Saturday apparently. I noticed that there was a talk about rivers but it was as much luck as judgement that I happened to be passing the main lecture theatre at the right time to hear most of it. It was easy to get a seat – apparently conservation isn’t a hugely popular topic at the Game Fair.
Did you know that 85% of the world’s chalk streams are in England? I didn’t. The rest - if you are curious to know, as I was – are mostly and unsurprisingly in Belgium and France (but there are some chalk stream lookalikes in Chile too). They should, surely, all be protected – but they aren’t.
One of the threats to them is phosphate pollution from watercress beds – who’d have thought it? The S&TA have done research, we heard, the few of us who were listening, that shows that the P-levels in rivers are sometimes 10 times what they should be because of this pollution.
The Chalk Stream Charter seems pretty good and successive governments and their agencies seem to have done a particularly poor job here. Well may it be said that our stewardship of this global resource has been truly ‘lamentable’.
Martin Salter may have been the only person to have quoted Aneurin Bevan at the Game Fair today and he may well have been the only person to call for ‘environmental leadership rather than focus-group politics’ – is that a ‘left and a right’, or maybe a ‘left and a left’?
I was struck by the fact that it was a bunch of fishermen pointing out that you wouldn’t need to dredge the rivers if they weren’t clogged up with soil washed off fields – so why don’t we farm more sustainably?
I was reminded of this question later in the day when I was told that Owen Paterson (remember him?) had asked EA to assess the need for dredging of all English rivers. That’ll cost a bit.
The Game Fair had been robbed of an appearance by OPatz by the reshuffle and the new SoS had had to stay in London (possibly for a Cabinet meeting on Ukraine). I’d wondered why the CLA had been reduced to issuing a photo of Nigel Farage drinking a pint yesterday but that must be why.
Maybe the PM himself will visit tomorrow – it’s close to his constituency home after all.
I might have a go at shooting some clays tomorrow. I might.
But, for this evening, I am regretting that nature conservationists don’t work more closely with fishermen. There is a lot of common ground (particularly if they lay off otters and cormorants a bit).
E-petition very close to 8300 - I wonder how many fisherpeople signed?
The latest in the excellent series of BAWC podcasts – this one by Terry Pickford.
‘In 1974 we had 39 breeding females…every single estate had hen harriers…but many of them were interfered with’
‘It changed about 1980′
‘Derek Ratcliffe was asked the reason why there had been such a calamitous collapse in Hen Harriers in the Forest of Bowland and said ‘I can’t think of anything else other than persecution’
‘These things are disappearing from grouse moors and the only reason is that the ‘keepers are killing them. There’s no doubt about that. I’ve seen it.’
‘The keeper had his hand around the neck of a Hen Harrier’
‘We will never, ever accept Hen Harriers on Red Grouse moors in Bowland [the words of a land agent]‘
‘I’ve seen two generations of ‘keepers come and go…there are traps now everywhere”
‘We’ve had the Natural England Hen Harrier initiative for years now, hundreds of thousands of pounds, and they’re stalling for time. When it started there were more Hen Harriers than there are now. ‘
‘It’s worse now, Charlie, than it’s ever been before’
‘As soon as they put the satellite tags on, within a year or 18 months they’ve disappeared. I understand they’ve all gone down on grouse moors – they’ve not gone down anywhere else’
‘Nobody’s interested. Nobody’s interested’
Last week I was early, I’m always early, for my interview with Martha Kearney on the World at One and so I watched a protest march set off from outside the BBC near Oxford Circus.
There were firefighters and teachers from the NUT. I recognised the strains of Billy Bragg’s rendition of The Internationale playing above the heads of the assembled marchers.
One of the teachers had this placard and I asked him whether I could take a photo of it which I then tweeted – by the time I had finished my interview about Passenger Pigeons it was ‘trending’ on Twitter in London – ie lots of people were seeing it and sending it on to their networks.
It’s a placard not an essay, but that is sometimes an advantage. The reason these nine words struck a chord with me was that they seemed to sum up sentiments that are difficult to put into words. For me, fairness is more important than riches, being kind is more important than being better off materially, being part of a group of friends is more important than being part of an economically active group of spenders.
Yes there is an economy, just as there is a society – both are emergent properties of our individual actions. But it is the quality of those interactions that matter to me rather than the passage between us of bits of paper with numbers on them.
You see – it is more effective in nine words than 90! I don’t know what the placard-maker meant, maybe none of what I read into it, maybe something different, maybe something deeper, but I’m grateful to him for his obviously home-made nugget of thought-provoking wisdom.
And what has this to do with the natural world you might ask?
I’m tempted to say ‘You work it out for yourself!’ but here’s a prompt. We need to decide what sort of world we want to inhabit. Of the three legs of the sustainability stool – ecology, economy and social – then the least of these, for me, is the economy. When I think of the type of world I would like to live in it is fairer and it stops causing ecological destruction. Yes we need economic activity to deliver a better society but we don’t necessarily need economic growth, and economic growth makes it far more difficult, starting from where we are now, to deliver ecological protection.
I’m not sure that the love of money is at the root of all evils but it plays a part in a great many of them. We seem to have put the economy at the top of a hierarchy, and ecology at the bottom. Our stool has a very long economic leg and a very short ecological one. I think we would be far better-seated if we changed the lengths of the legs of the stool. For a comfortable position we need the societal leg to be slightly longer than the ecological leg and that to be a little longer than the economy.
Maybe my placard would be three words: redistribute, re-wild and retrench.
See the minutes of the meeting of the Lead Ammunition Group of 16 April 2014 which say: The survey estimated in UK that 5,500 – 12,500 under eight year olds consumed game once a week or more, and that 27,000-62,000 adults eat game more than once a week.
Now, assuming that this was wild-shot game (as the heading says) and that the majority of this was shot with lead ammunition (as it will have been), then it needs to be compared with the advice of the Food Standards Agency on 8 October 2012 which said:
‘The Food Standards Agency is advising people that eating lead-shot game on a frequent basis can expose them to potentially harmful levels of lead. The FSA’s advice is that frequent consumers of lead-shot game should eat less of this type of meat.‘ (see my blog of 9 October 2012).
The FSA must have based their advice partly on this paper published earlier that year which shows that children consuming less than one meal per week of game, shot with lead ammunition, can be expected to suffer a loss of IQ of one IQ point. This appears to apply to at least 5,500 children each year in the UK, and maybe as many as 12,500 – some of whom (eg the children of gamekeepers) may be eating considerably more than one meal of lead-shot game meat each week.
Lead ammunition, remarkably enough, sheds tiny particles of lead as it travels through the flesh of a shot animal such as a deer, pheasant, grouse, rabbit, woodpigeon etc. This lead cannot be removed through butchering and it is practically invisible (we aren’t talking about the actual lead shot themselves – we are talking about tiny fragments of lead). This has been known for quite some time – to nature conservationists and shooters alike – the first time I heard about it was after this conference held in May 2008, attended by staff from RSPB and BASC.
The RSPB stopped using lead ammunition to cull deer on its nature reserves in 2009 as it was sufficiently convinced of the wildlife and human health impacts of this issue. The deer culled in nature reserves such as Abernethy were entering the human food chain as venison and RSPB Council agreed that the evidence for harm was sufficient to stop using lead bullets for deer control – particularly since non-toxic alternatives were readily available.
The Lead Ammunition Group was set up in 2010 after the RSPB and WWT wrote to Defra suggesting that it should be – on the basis of the scientific evidence. Until I left the RSPB I attended meetings of this group. So I do know about its genesis and early days.
The shooting community has admitted privately that the days of lead ammunition are numbered but has done nothing much to hasten its end – as with driven grouse shooting, they have dug their heels in, denied the evidence of harm, and played for time. In this case, every year that goes by without a complete ban on lead ammunition harms thousands of children (and tens of thousands of adults too). How many thousands of children have to be harmed before shooting organisations will take action?
Many of the affected children must be gamekeepers’ children – the children of gamekeepers whose employers’ organisations have known the evidence for years and yet done everything they could to prolong the harm by fighting against any measures to limit the use of lead ammunition. This is a disgrace.
The organisations most to blame on this count are: the Countryside Alliance, BASC and the GWCT. All have known the evidence for many years and none has done anything much to address the problem.
The Countryside Alliance has continued to promote game as a healthy food – despite FSA warnings and despite the science.
They say: ‘Game is wild, natural and free range and if you are looking for something low in fat and cholesterol, game is a delicious and healthy alternative to many other red meats.‘
They don’t say: lead-shot game meat on sale in supermarkets and game dealers often has lead levels so high that the meat could not be sold if it were beef, pork, lamb, chicken etc.
They don’t say: that when challenged on this statement the FSA Chief Scientist wrote:
‘Thanks for your comments on lead-shot game, especially for bringing to my attention the claim that ‘pound-for-pound there is more lead in chocolate than game’. There is absolutely no justification for such a claim. The recent EFSA Scientific Opinion [http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/1570.pdf], which includes data submitted to EFSA by member states including the UK, makes clear that the mean levels for game are much higher than for chocolate.
In our risk assessment, the average values for lead were 0.195 mg/kg lead in wild deer and for game birds it was 1.87 mg/kg. This is 2 – 22 times the average levels of lead in chocolate and chocolate products (0.083 mg/kg; EFSA opinion on lead). Data from the paper by Pain et al. (referenced in the enquiry) were considered and included in the Agency’s risk assessment.
There is, of course, no need to eat lead-shot game, or chocolate for that matter, as part of a balanced diet. But you are far more likely to be harmed by the levels of saturated fat and sugars in chocolate than by its lead content – unless you prefer your chocolate Santa also to have been used for target practice.‘ (see my blog of 12 November 2012).
They say: ‘Let me make BASC’s position on lead totally clear: no sound evidence, no change’. BASC Chief Executive, Richard Ali.
They don’t say: BASC staff were present at that 2008 conference in Boise, Idaho and were just as aware as anyone else of the importance of its findings. BASC carried out surveys of its members’ game consumption which they were very slow to disclose to the LAG despite repeated enquiries (by me actually). BASC have known for years the science demonstrating that game meat can contain high lead levels, that their own surveys indicated high levels of lead-shot game consumption and that this indicated a health risk to their own members and to the general public.
They have also known that non-toxic ammunition was available and widely used in other countries. They don’t say that countries like Denmark phased out lead ammunition for all shooting, including target shooting, years ago and yet game-bird shooting continues in Denmark as a major pastime.
They say: nothing that I can find.
They don’t say: that they have been made aware of all the science as it has been carried out over the years and that they had a public duty to act on that science.
Here we have a situation where the ‘leading’ bodies of the shooting community have had all the science on the impacts of lead ammunition on human health for years. They have known of high lead levels in meat for human consumption. They have known of the increasing health concerns. They have known that there are non-toxic alternative ammunitions available. They have known that other countries have acted on this evidence. And yet they have done nothing to meet this challenge. They are waiting to be told not to use lead ammunition rather than phasing it out themselves. This is a scandal. Shooting has been badly led and the public has been badly served by these shooting organisations.
Why has this happened? It seems that the current slightly higher cost of non-toxic ammunition has been too high a price for these organisations to pay – they have accepted harm to thousands of children rather than pay a bit more for their sport. The Countryside Alliance has campaigned in favour of retaining lead ammunition on the grounds that it is traditional, and cheap. That’s a scandal.
By the way, spent lead ammunition poisons millions of waterfowl too.