The Shooting Times – don’t you just love ’em?

I did break the habit of a lifetime and bought The ST yesterday because I had been told it was full of jokes – and it was!

As I flicked through it I couldn’t help but notice that there were about ( I stress ‘about’ – my eyes did begin to glaze over) 150 blokes in it, 170 guns, 50 or so dogs and about 20 women. Gals are about as numerous as deer, dead birds and a little commoner than rabbits in the lives of shooting men, it seems. What a wonderful world to inhabit – don’t you think?

Although I believe that the rag is supposed to be about the great fun of shooting, since there aren’t any gals around, one could be forgiven for thinking that the main game species is the RSPB. The RSPB appears on the first five pages of the magazine, sometimes in big letters. Obviously, the RSPB is praised to the hilt throughout – read it yourself and see.

The tone is strident and the arguments are unconvincing.  It looks like the competition between shooting mags has caused a race to the bottom, and the ST is scraping it hard.  What would ‘BB’ have said about it?

There is nothing as strident, and nothing as adversarial to all other moderate influences in the countryside. I bet Philip Merricks is livid about ST.

Clearly either no-one has thought what impression this approach would have on the normal man (or dog) in the street, and they certainly won’t have considered the normal woman on the street, or the ST really doesn’t care what impression it makes.

What is the ornithological equivalent of the ST? I’m not sure there is one.

I wonder what the man, dog and woman count is in Birdwatch, Birdwatching etc?

The ST discusses the RSPB’s call for licensing of grouse moors and quotes the NGO, BASC and GWCT as not being terribly keen on it. Well, they would say that wouldn’t they?

I think that the call for licensing is simply too little, too feeble and too late.  The RSPB looks rather off the pace now to advance this as their new solution when they did precious little to support John Armitage’s e-petition on this very subject which only closed at the end of February.  This time last year would have been the time for the RSPB to throw their weight behind this measure and harness public support for it.  By the way, that’s what I did through this blog even though I think that licensing is a partial and probably ineffective solution to the wide range of problems now associated with grouse moors – it’s not just about Hen Harriers is it?

But if the RSPB had supported the e-petition on this subject then we would all have bitten our lips and said nothing.  But things have moved on.

You have to realise that the shooting community would be quite happy for licensing to come in – it relies on monitoring and a system of penalties and the policing will be difficult and the penalties can be argued over for years.  Years of dialogue could be spent on defining the grounds for withdrawing a licence for damaging peat too much, reducing water quality too much etc etc.

That doesn’t sound to scary to the grouse shooters. So the pages of outrage in ST are there to make licensing seems extreme (when it is actually weak and ineffective in this instance) and to make the RSPB feel that it has been really tough.

The grouse shooters are worried about the possibility, only vague and only distant, of a total ban on their activities because increasingly realisation is dawning on a range of people that the way to deal with the systematic ills of driven grouse shooting is to ban it.  And they hate the idea of people expressing their abhorrence of the criminal killing of Hen Harriers on Hen Harrier Day. This might involve grannies, girls and grown women – what a thought!

Apparently the RSPB is too influenced by ‘bloggers’ – whatever they may be. I must meet some of these people and have a word with them – they sound interesting.

The thing that these bloggers might ask for is a ban to driven grouse shooting as the simplest, quickest, most effective and least bureaucratic solution to the many ills of intensive grouse moor management. I wonder whether the RSPB has noticed? Maybe this will be RSPB policy a few months after this e-petition closes.

6400 signatures as we enter Week 6 – that’s over 1000 signatures a week on average. Wouldn’t it be great to get to 10,000 in the next five weeks – by 12 August.  That’s about 100 new signatures a day for the next 39 or so days – sounds quite tough to me.  I wonder whether that is possible?  Let’s give it a go.


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35 Replies to “The Shooting Times – don’t you just love ’em?”

  1. I've seen the adverts, the rspb are more interested in hedgehog hotels in suburban gardens than tackling rich landowners and their big guns!

  2. makes you wonder how shooting times would continue and what they'd find to whinge about if the RSPB ever went out of existance

  3. Though not much nowadays, a couple of years ago I was regularly able to flick through the weekly Shooting Times (relatives copies ,etc.) It appeared at the time that of the readers who wrote into the letters page, it was a competition to see who could bash predators the hardest. The most anti-predator letter invariably got "letter of the week" and won themselves an expensive pair of wellington boots! What an incentive!
    The one that I remember most fondly was from an unintentionly hilarious chap who was out walking on friend's land and came across a Buzzard eating a Red-legged Partridge. He was outraged. How dare a Buzzard eat a Red-leg! He finished the letter by saying that he was planning to take the partridge carcass to the game fair and dump it on the RSPB stand to express his dismay! And yes, of course he won his wellies!

  4. Not a particularly helpful comment from C Thody but there is a smidgen of 'truth' here in the sense that with its million members the RSPB could file a petition and reach impressive numbers at the drop of a hat. The same could also be said of the birding community itself. May be there is also petition fatigue? I signed grouse moor petition and more recently the save Kew staff cuts one but unless they reach 100k signatures do politicians take any notice?
    Just on another note I don't know if your saw this blog from Shooting UK. In what appears a very polarised debate this struck me as being actually pretty sensible -

    1. May be there is also petition fatigue?
      I think there is a lot of fatigue in the conservation establishment.

      Our best hope is for the young to take up these causes and if we, the aging mainstream, cannot motivate ourselves enough they can sweep on, with or without us. I will be there with them in such a case.

  5. I,ve always thought its similar to the Sunday sport, but I find in the shooting times the stories are not quite as believable but there are more tits

  6. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The RSPB continually shy away from issues where they could easily make a huge difference due to their huge membership and power. They seem unwilling to take the bull by the horns and take on the hunting & shooting fraternity. The killing of a family of foxes by a game keeper recently on an adjacent estate to one of their reserves went totally unchallenged even though many members went there specifically to watch these young foxes enjoy life. Give nature a home? Sure but only if it doesn't upset the rich landowning gentry who like to kill things for fun. Hen Harriers are just the start.

  7. Good Blog Mark...Shooting Times continues to be a beacon of 19th century light then [or should that be a tea light]...

    Spiteful, malicious, misogynist, backward-looking...and unhelpful to the shooters cause...

    Makes The Telegraph look like the Morning Star!


  8. Mark, I keep returning to your blog of June 4th and the letter to Steve Ormerod and his reply. He comments "The RSPB team will be saying more about hen harrier conservation very soon, but your challenge needs a far more substantive response that I’ll come back with in due course. " You suggest a statement of intent or somesuch at the AGM in October. Are you expecting a further reply from Prof. Ormerod before then? I believe that the RSPB have moved significantly over the past month and Martin Harper states that it is their intention to keep the discussion in the public eye. Mike Clarke's letter to the Moorland Association was good and the reply (more obviously directed at politicians and their buddies than the RSPB) was illuminating. Rather than continually slagging off the RSPB shouldn't we (I'm sure most of your respondents are members?), as DBS says above, overcome our petition fatigue and keep up the pressure and be supportive of their efforts. What about other organisations, like the NT, Wildlife Trusts, those interested in other aspects of moorland conservation, what are they doing? The whole approach should be broad based. The Aug. 10th initiative is great and I wish it luck.

  9. Years ago I sadly used to buy the ST but I've not done so for about 30 years. I do however look at it in the supermarket but I'm damned well not going to give them my money. AsDAve and Merlin say its the gutter press.
    Sorry Accidental Activist foxes are often a bloody nuisance, ask my partner who has lost quite few chickens this spring to feed a litter of cubs and as such a perfectly legitimate and legal target.

  10. I flicked through a Shooting Times recently and was depressed by all the anti-predator and anti-RSPB guff spouted in the opening shots. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) I no find it had to believe I used to be a keen subscriber to said publication as a boy and once lapped up its various recommendations for corvid control. I firmly believe the shooting community has a gigantic chip on its shoulder with the conservation movement. They think we're all out to spoil their fun when in fact we'd rather they just addressed the bad apples amongst them that continue to persecute birds of prey.

    This 'us and them' culture breeds contempt and mistrust on both sides. We can't hold adult discussions with each other these days. But the shooting community needs to ask itself "What is the relevance of driven shooting in this day and age?" It's is becoming increasingly apparent that we are losing more and more from the countryside. ( We need to start getting our priorities right and putting something back.

      1. Fear not Ed, we are out there

        Plus challenging the the disciple-leaders to engage with the nasty rich, landowning lot - who, actually might want 'in'...

        It's how you say it. Not something the ST or Birds (Nature's Home?!) get right every time.

        1. Rob I fear you miss the point, Mark has crossed the line and such initiatives will only be seen by him as the conservationist equivalent of 'bourgeois revisionism'

          You'[re position may seem 'reasonable' - but reason is the enemy.

          1. (ps co operation and getting people on board *may* get more conservation - but drawing the battle lines gets more hits on your blog)

  11. It sounds rather like the Scottish Farmer, which is both stridently anti-predator (in particular, White-tailed Eagles and Buzzards) and annoyingly printed on non-absorbent, glossy paper (thereby denying me the chance to find a practical and satisfying use for it in the bathroom).

    Still, there are some similarities with 'Birdwatch', insofar as it feels like a very laddish and masculine magazine with only the merest nod towards women. 'Birdwatching' is more about actually enjoying birds; 'Birdwatch' is pitched towards the so-called 'serious birder', and that tends to be a young or middle-aged bloke demographic. There are some exceptions in the articles they run, but by and large it shares some distinct similarities with the ST in who it caters for, and who it features.

    The ST has, by the way, the largest number of cocks of one sort or another in it's pages of any bird-related publication. (I know, that's a cheap shot - but then, so is advocating shooting a Hen Harrier).

  12. Mark – I was interested that you thought that I would be “livid” about Shooting Times. As a result of your blog I had an eventful time this morning picking up a copy from our local newsagent as I was diverted by a mag emblazoned with “New Hot Shoot” across the front cover. A publication which had found its way to the country pursuits section down from its more discreet position on the topshelf.

    No Mark, I don’t feel livid – just sad that the grouse moor/hen harrier debate is getting more adversarial. My firm view is that the hen harrier numbers can be increased only if there is good will on both sides. Which is something that is lacking at the moment and which is something that I banged on about at length in my comments to your blog of 26th June headed “Simon Barnes again”. Thanks for allowing that debate on your blog.

    1. "My firm view is that the hen harrier numbers can be increased only if there is good will on both sides."

      No actually Hen Harrier numbers can be increased if there is good will from one side only, its as simple as that, one side isn't persecuting them

    2. Philip you have as yet failed to answer a simple question. That if persecution of raptors on English grouse moors is only done by a minority of keepers how have those few keepers managed to virtually eliminate the Hen Harrier and keep almost all grouse moor Peregrine sites free of successfully breeding Peregrines? For example here in the Yorkshire Dales our last peregrine success on a grouse moor was in 1998 and that was the first for four years, yet half our sites are on grouse moors.

  13. Dear Mark

    Moorland management is not my particular forte, but I would like to understand it a bit better.

    I have heard it claimed that moorland management is bad for the CO2 budget as the burning releases CO2 and prevents peat formation. The Moorland Association's response seems to infer that there is indeed a trade off between jobs and moss.

    However, a paper published in 2013 says that "Where burn return interval is short (10 years), E. vaginatum/Sphagnum abundance increased. We found no evidence to suggest that prescribed burning was deleterious to the abundance of peat-forming species; indeed, it was found to favour them."

    This leaves me rather confused. Any chance of an idiot's guide to the science of moorland management and CO2?



    1. I suspect some management practices can be good and some bad and the picture is probably rather complex with good and bad results hence why I think the law should be revisited to stamp out bad practice.

  14. I’m surprised at the comments that Paul Irving made about foxes. I think Paul talks a lot of sense, but I have to disagree that killing foxes is a legitimate thing to do. I feel that we have to move away from this perception that certain animals are “pests” and that reaching for the gun is the best solution when there is conflict with human interests. This is the view of the hunting and shooting fraternity and of DEFRA; that nature must be controlled.
    If conservationists hold these views too, it lessens our argument when trying to protect other species from persecution. It is unacceptable for both foxes and hen harriers to be killed. One is not more important than the other. An animal having a high population or a lack of legal protection should not make it acceptable to kill it. People should get as angry at the amount of mammals killed by game keepers, as they do about birds of prey. One shooting estate Mark mentioned killed 400 stoats in a year! If we can’t tolerate living with a medium sized omnivore like the fox, how can we ever hope to restore our fractured ecosystems with the reintroduction of mammals like the beaver, lynx and wolf?

    1. fox numbers are becoming artifically high due to humna practices, foraging in bins, more earthworms due to fertile grassland being what i feel are the two main reasons, lapwings are being pushed into smaller and smaller areas again due to human food production needing dry ground. if your trying to protect an area of breeding lapwing what is the solution? predator proof fencing is expensive and has a much more un-natural feel to it than shooting. no? if we still had the big predators in our ecosystem which are meant to supress medium sized omnivores do you think they would do it by putting up fencing?

      1. Hi Peter no they wouldn't but they would not do it just by killing them either - although they would kill some of them. One of the important ways apex predators suppress medium sized predators is through dispersal and deterrence - this would happen between wolves/bears and foxes/badgers and also very importantly between wolves and deer. Guns don't have this important effect whereas dogs of course do being closely related to wolves.

  15. I know many think we are passed any 'natural succession' but what would have killed many of those stoats and weasel? Yes Fox.Polecat and Buzzard not to mention even Eagle Owl! [remains found in pellet at Geltsdale]. What is the main species to stop a Hen Harrier explosion [other than man] on a Red Grouse moor - Fox and Raven. What species are completely controlled on a Red Grouse moor - everything that could eat Red Grouse including Kestrel. If Red Grouse shooting is to continue on such a 'Victorian' scale then sadly who is going to stop them?

  16. Sorry to disagree Apus but the likelyhood is high fox densities and the UK has generally high density of foxes is probably due to our activities, the introduced rabbit, high densities of pheasants both live and as road kill probably allow higher numbers of young to survive their first winter, just to start with. I do agree we need to move away from killing for killings sake but in our landscape we have too many deer are you suggesting not killing them and try keeping free range chickens in areas where there are high pheasant numbers as my partner does unfortunately means that sometimes specific foxes have to go ( normally only when foxes are feeding cubs). Other than that its live and let live on that particular small holding surrounded by a wealth of badgers, polecats, buzzards, kites and goshawks making the place a pleasure to be at and there is no chance of running out of foxes. The RSPB itself and probably some other conservation NGOs control some pest species where absolutely necessary.

    1. Paul I think you're right that foxes can become particularly problematic when they are lactating. So once you've blatted mummy is it as simple as 'no fox no problem' (to misquote Stalin. Well not entirely because although mummy fox is now an ex fox her little babies are not. Her babies are going to get very hungry and thirsty and they are not going to have a very nice death. And what is to be done about that? Once solution is to call up the evil terrier man get him to send his terrier down the foxes earth, flush the cubs into a net and blat them. Not a nice death but arguably a lot better and definitely a lot quicker than just letting them starve to death.

      A lot of foxes get shot every year - 100,000+. and run down - make that another 100,000+. I reckon there are a lot of very hungry baby foxes out there right now.

      Obviously using a terrier underground is totally illegal to get to fox cubs especially for a chicken farmer. If you are rearing game to be shot for sport then it's a slightly different matter. You can then use a terrier to protect them - probably not on just the cubs as they don't threaten pheasants/grouse but definitely on the vixen + cubs. From a welfare point of view you'd probably be best with the terrier and the whole family than just taking out the vixen and leaving the cubs to starve.

      Is there any actual rationale behind a game rearer being allowed to use a terrier and a chicken or sheep farmer not being allowed to?

      I very much doubt it and if you ask ministers the last thing they seem to want to do is produce one.

      Should there be?

      Well that depends on whether you think the law which underpins our society should be based on reason. Judging from Mark's 'let's be reasonable' blog the answer seems to be no.

      "The time for reason is over"

      No one actually said that apart from me just now.

  17. The report – “After the hunt – The future for foxes in Britain” (not sure of the date, but I don’t think it’s that old) by P.Baker, S.H arris and P.White is well worth a read, as it challenges a number of negative perceptions about foxes. Some of the key points are -

    1. "Over the last forty years all available evidence suggests that fox numbers have not changed significantly in most of Britain"
    2. "There is no evidence that killing foxes has any effect on fox population other than locally"
    3. Two "studies suggest that fox culling can be counter-productive, and that removing resident populations leads to higher numbers of immigrants"
    4. "A study of fox predation on lapwings found that predation of nests by foxes was incidental and that foxes spent little time foraging in lapwing breeding colonies"
    5. "Fox predation was most severe in poor quality habitats"
    6. "A recent review has shown that more sustainable grouse numbers would be achieved if gamekeepers concentrated less on predator control and more on finding a balance between grouse and their food supplies"
    7. "Pheasant losses to foxes are generally low"
    8. "...The control of foxes had little positive benefit for hen harriers"

    I think the key point in my earlier comment was about killing an animal if there is conflict with human interests. This could be a fox killing a chicken, a buzzard killing a pheasant or a hen harrier killing a red grouse. For the chickens, it’s not really surprising that they are predated if they are free range. Of course I can see why it would be upsetting, but the fox is only doing what predators do, taking advantage of an easy meal. There has to be an element of risk in letting livestock roam freely, especially if there are predators in the area. Also, killing a fox when there is young seems particularly cruel.

    I can reluctantly accept the need for the culling of deer (if there are no natural predators), if it is to protect the wider environment, as there will be significant gains to the web of life. For example, the regeneration of trees and shrubs will benefit many birds, mammals and insects and not just one species.

    1. "There is no evidence that killing foxes has any effect on fox population other than locally"

      If you think about it this is a rather odd statement. If I have problems with foxes and kill foxes then surely I'm only really interested in having an effect on the local fox population. I'm really not bothered about nor even wanting to effect the fox population in Aberdeen (I'm in Devon) or even in Mariansleigh (I'm in Rose Ash) or even for that matter on Bruce's place next door.

      Moreover if fox control does affect population locally then surely if I control my foxes and Bruce does too then that local effect is doubled?

      I can well see that in the long run none of this makes any odds because the foxes will come back - but isn't that a bit like the fact that in the long run weeding my garden makes no difference because the weeds will come back. Unless of course I keep pulling out the weeds in which case I will keep having less.

      The simple fact IMO is if I shoot all the foxes on the farm there will be less foxes and if I keep doing that when they come back then there will keep being less foxes.

  18. I’ve included the full quote and provided more information on the impact of killing foxes on a local scale -

    "Even though most fox mortality is caused by humans, either through collisions with motor vehicles or by culling 55, 84, 85, there is no evidence that killing foxes has any effect on fox population size other than locally. The only two studies that have quantified the impact of winter culling (most foxes are killed in the winter) on the spring breeding population, one in Scotland and the other in Welsh coniferous forests, both found that, where more foxes were killed in the winter, spring numbers tended to be higher 8, 54. So both these studies suggest that fox culling can be counter-productive, and that removing resident populations leads to higher numbers of immigrants".

    Basically, if you want to spend a lot of your time killing foxes (a kill rate of more than 80% is needed) you will have some impact on local populations, but ultimately it’s futile, as the area will be repopulated by immigrants. Here’s some more info –


    A study used computer simulations to model the impact of different culling practices on fox numbers in a large region (1,600 km2). Of four methods of fox control (hunting with hounds, winter shooting, culling at the den and fertility control) the most effective at reducing fox populations was found to be culling at the den, which eliminates the mother with her cubs and winter shooting, which removes dispersing individuals. Both methods however, were effective only at very high culling levels (>80%), which are unfeasible for large areas. None of the methods was very effective at reducing fox numbers because immigrating foxes from other areas quickly replaced dead foxes.

    1. "but ultimately it’s futile, as the area will be repopulated by immigrants.". That is clearly completely illogical. If you keep killing foxes nearby you then you'll have less foxes nearby you. Of course the foxes you kill will be replaced but if you are continually killing foxes then you'll be killing the replacements.

      No one is arguing that if one year you kill a lot of foxes you are going to permanently reduce the fox population and it's disingenuous to put up such a straw man.

      As I think I've made clear I don't kill any foxes and I use dogs on deer rather than shoot them however let's at least be logical about this.

      One of my neighbour has organic chickens - he's building two more sheds to help supply china. I know he kills a lot of foxes and like Paul points out it's only the local population he wants to reduce because it's only the local foxes that eat his chickens. He really isn't bothered about the nationwide fox population or even the ones in the next parish it's the ones that eat his chickens he's after.

  19. I myself do not kill the problem foxes, my partner talks by telephone to the local pheasant keeper and he does the rest. I accept that some think shooting a dog or vixen that is feeding cubs( often you have to kill both) is cruel, I know in some cases the keeper has also managed to shoot the cubs. I also said we only contact him if the foxes are a problem, sometimes the foxes are very local to the chickens and have not been a problem. I know in the long run that it makes no difference to the fox population, even locally in the longer term, after all we are just protecting a particular group of chickens from a particular fox ( or fox family).
    Very different from the rabid anti predator nonsense in the ST.

  20. "Basically, if you want to spend a lot of your time killing foxes (a kill rate of more than 80% is needed) you will have some impact on local populations, but ultimately it’s futile, as the area will be repopulated by immigrants.”
    If you shoot a load of foxes, of course you will have less foxes for a short period, but when a load more move in, you will have to keep repeating the process. My comment about it being futile is that there is no finishing line in sight and culling will always involve a lot of effort and cost (if you get somebody else to do it). If you are happy to always kill foxes, you probably won’t see it as futile.
    Surely, there comes a point when other measures should be considered? As you mentioned weeds; rather than always having to pull them up, why not try preventative measures instead (membranes, mulch, dense planting etc)? For foxes and chickens, it could be improving the security of the housing and fencing.


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