BBC Countryfile magazine has a poll about the good that shooting does in the countryside following the Countryfile programme last Sunday.
The poll asks ‘Does the shooting industry do more good than harm to Britain’s wildlife?’. I know several people who have voted in the opposite way to that which they intended because of the wording of this question, but that’s life.
It’s a good question, and I don’t find it that easy to answer.
First of all, I don’t have any problem with people shooting clays – and they are part of the shooting industry and are providing a perfectly acceptable alternative to shooting wildlife. Did you know, by the way, that clay pigeons derive from the practice of trap-shooting Passenger Pigeons? Large numbers of Passenger Pigeons were live-trapped and then used in shooting competitions in the USA in the latter part of the nineteenth century – until public abhorrence of catching wild birds and then using them as living targets just for ‘sport’ began to grow and we ran out of Passenger Pigeons! But that’s why clay pigeons are clay pigeons rather than clay pheasants or clay snipe or clay grouse, and it’s why those clays are traditionally blue – coloured after the ‘blue meteor’ that was the Passenger Pigeon. You didn’t know that? What else don’t you know about the Passenger Pigeon that you could learn by buying A Message from Martha?
Shooting has a range of real benefits to wildlife (if you aren’t one of the ones that is shot) although they tend to be exaggerated by shooters. These include predator control (or wiping out some wildlife to favour some other wildlife that you can shoot) and habitat protection (although much of the habitat is protected by law anyway, and some of the rest is funded by agri-environment schemes and is certainly not restricted to land used for game shooting).
Wildfowling always seems to me to be the ‘best’ form of shooting (not that I would want to do it myself). It’s most akin to hunting and relies on quite a lot of skill in stalking the quarry (which I think is admirable even if it isn’t a benefit to wildlife) and it comes closest to taking a sustainable harvest from a natural resource. It’s a shame, a great shame, that most shot wildfowl purchased in game dealers and supermarkets still have lead in them – even though use of lead ammunition for shooting wildfowl in England has been banned for more than a decade. Wildfowlers always deny that this is them being naughty and blame it all on ducks shot by pheasant shooters but that doesn’t convince me at all. I wouldn’t mind being convinced on this though as I would like to think better of wildfowlers than I do at the moment. But just remember that all that spent shot is killing huge numbers of wildfowl every year through poisoning after ingestion – nothing to do with the shot tearing through their bodies.
There isn’t much admirable about Pheasant shooting. A non-native bird which has unstudied impacts on native fauna and flora (though fears are growing about its impacts) and where ‘guns’ stand waiting for the birds to be driven out of the woods, over their heads, simply to be live targets. But even here there are some benefits to native wildlife – the habitat and the artificial food provided probably benefit other species, such as some declining farmland birds. On the other hand, all those dead pheasants in the countryside that aren’t eaten by us are eaten by foxes, crows etc and must be distorting the predator-prey balance to quite an extent. It’s difficult to know where the balance lies.
Partridge shooting? If we are talking native Grey Partridge rather than introduced Red-legs or Chukars then, when done at the top end of the game, as in Sussex on the Duke of Norfolk’s land, it can be really, really good for a whole range of other farmland species. That isn’t to say that all partridge shoots even approach that level – but fair’s fair.
Driven grouse shooting though, appears to be dependent on killing wildlife legally in huge numbers and illegally in numbers that amount to ethnic cleansing of large areas of upland Britain. Not much to admire there, so please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting however you vote in the Countryfile poll.