Guest blog – What is a real country person? by Pete Etheridge

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Pete Etheridge is passionate about nature, the countryside and sustainable land management. He has, in the past, worked in estate management, as well as for conservation charities and commercial ecological consultancies. He is shortly set to join a revolutionary farm in South Devon, where he will be helping to promote the principles of agroecology and agroforestry.

Over an enjoyable pint of Ringwood Fortyniner recently, I got into a ‘heated discussion’ with a flat capped gentleman over the pros and cons of driven grouse shooting. He was arguing that it was a vital conservation tool, I was arguing that it should be banned or, at the very least, it must significantly alter the way it currently conducts itself.

The conversation ended rather abruptly when the flat capped gentleman told me that he “Wouldn’t expect a townie to understand these things” and that “Management of the countryside should be left to real countrymen”. And that was it. Discussion over. You see, because I didn’t fit with his preconceived vision of a ‘real countryperson’ (I was in tatty jeans and a hoody), all of my arguments were dismissed out of hand. Dismissed with one nasal snort and a final swig of real ale.

Now I’m fairly thick skinned, but I do object to having a good discussion curtailed like this. Informed debate and discussion, after all, is how our views and opinions evolve and develop. And this wasn’t the first time that this had happened to me. So it got me wondering – what makes a ‘real countryperson’ anyway?

Back in the Beginning
I was brought up in a small rural village in Hampshire, spending much of my childhood exploring the New Forest. I inherited my love of wildlife and the countryside from my dad – a former horse trainer & life member of the British Field Sports Society (as it was). As a teenager I was a keen sea angler (although surprisingly I was never overly tempted by coarse or game fishing) and I often bunked off of college to follow the New Forest Foxhounds on a Tuesday morning. I enjoyed holidays in the Lake District where I used to (attempt to!) follow Barry Todhunter up hill and down dale with the Blencathra Foxhounds. I didn’t take part in shooting sports in my younger days; that had to wait until I’d finished university. Although even as a teenager, I often romanticised about heading out to the estuaries for a spot of wildfowling or perhaps shooting the occasional fallow deer for the pot.

I respected those ’countrymen’ around me, be they New Forest commoners, foresters, huntsmen or farmers, they were true ‘salt of the earth’ types. They, I decided, really understood the working countryside – far better than the academics or conservationists sat in their distant offices. I was sold. Nothing would dissuade me – I was a countryman by birth, by descent, and by choice.

The Cracks Begin to Appear
Fast forward a number of years, time went by, I attended and graduated from university and got a job in private estate management, but throughout I remained a keen proponent of field sports. A few events, however, started to change my views…

My resolve to support foxhunting came to an abrupt end when I became a dog owner. I had always been told that foxes “do not feel fear” and “cannot comprehend their own mortality” and that was key to my view that foxhunting was a justified form of fox control. When I became a dog owner, however, I realised how wrong I had been. My dog feels fear (crikey, he even has panic attacks!), he forms attachments to other living organisms (cats aside…) and I simply cannot comprehend how he would feel being hunted by a pack of hounds across the open countryside. Whilst I obviously recognise that a fox is not the same species as a domestic dog, there is nothing to suggest to me that a fox is any less able to feel fear and panic than my dog. Fox hunting was the first field sport that I decided I could no longer support.

Once I had reassessed my views on foxhunting, I reluctantly began to look at shooting. Whilst I remained (and remain) comfortable with the principles of sustainable shooting of wild animals for food, I began to question the idea of captive-reared gamebird shooting. I began to wonder exactly what impacts large gamebird releases have on our native species of wildlife – do the habitats set aside as shooting coverts counterbalance the predation impact (by gamebirds) on reptiles, invertebrates and small mammals?

I also began to question why the shooting industry was so opposed to the banning of lead ammunition. To my mind, the scientific evidence was overwhelming. Using lead shot is a danger to the environment and detrimental to the health of the people who eat the species being shot. Why would the industry, my industry, not accept the evidence and, like a responsible adult, announce its intention to change its ways? To my mind it was an easy PR win. I questioned BASC about this and received a reply asking me to call them about it. To my shame, I never made that phone call, but I do wonder why they weren’t prepared to respond to my emailed request in writing. It was around this time that I decided that I would no longer use lead ammunition and that I would not partake in shooting sports that involved the rearing and release of gamebirds. But I still didn’t want to force those personal principles on anyone else.

The latest stage of my journey didn’t happen overnight. In Inglorious, Mark gives us an insight into the long thought process that he went through before launching his first petition to ban driven grouse shooting. I gave my decision to sign the petition and to support a ban on driven grouse shooting equally heavy consideration. My decision ultimately was made on the continued inability of the shooting industry to accept its faults (even in the face of scientific evidence) and change its ways. I also became disillusioned as I became aware that for many proponents of field sports, it is an ‘all or nothing approach’. It often appears that all field sports (whether they be trophy hunting, hunting with hounds or bow hunting for example) need to be defended equally. But by criticising the unsustainable (and/or unnecessarily cruel) elements of field sports, there is the opportunity for the industry to grow, develop, and prove to everyone that it can be a progressive industry. An industry willing to accept scientific evidence and amend its working practices accordingly.

Where Am I Now?
My journey has taken me from field sports enthusiast, to someone who is now categorised, out-of-hand, as a townie. So what’s changed? Not my involvement in the countryside, that’s for sure. In fact, I am more involved in the working countryside now than at any point in the past. So where do I now fall on the spectrum? Well, you’ll have to judge for yourself. Does being a ‘real countryperson’ mean that I must become desensitised to, and support, the wholescale killing of wildlife for sport? If taking part in field sports is now the only defining feature of a ‘real countryperson’, then forget it. I’ll hang up my waxed jacket and wellies and become a fully-fledged townie. If, on the other hand, being a real countryperson is being someone who lives and works in the countryside, someone who respects the old ways and traditions but is prepared to question whether they can be improved (or are indeed still relevant), well, maybe I can continue to think of myself as a real countryperson after all.

So that is my journey (so far). I hope it provides encouragement that people can and do change if they remain open to evidence and reason. The debate over driven grouse shooting is likely to rumble on but, in my mind at least, the science and evidence point in only one direction – it’s time to ban driven grouse shooting.






20 Replies to “Guest blog – What is a real country person? by Pete Etheridge”

  1. Great article. I’m pretty sure that the majority of “Country folk” do not regularly take part in hunting or shooting of any form (I guess it may depend where you draw the borders between town and country).
    No doubt the minority that do enjoy such activities will always dismiss any “anti” comments as coming from townies because that’s all they have left as an argument.

  2. You’re not alone, Pete. I’m born, raised, lived, and worked in the countryside virtually all my life and have been dismissed as a townie too many times to recall. “Townie” just means “Someone you disagree with about whatever the topic happens to be at the time”.

    At least your flat capped gentleman sounds like he was also an actual country person. It’s when retired solicitors from London have the gall to dismiss me as a townie that it’s really annoying.

  3. Many thanks, Pete. Excellent guest blog that nicely nails the ridiculous narrowness of what being a country person means in some circles -Country Person good, townie (non-person bad, evidently. I like your definition of living and working in the countryside, respecting traditions but being open to change a lot . I think we should claim it and use it in the conversation. I might change it to ‘living and/or working in the countryside’ and not just because I have a pendantry problem but because the cost of rural land and living in some areas pushes people who have lived or even now work there into the conurbations. But that’s a quibble. A recognition that country people are a diverse mix and not defined by any belief or activity is important.

  4. Pete obviously sits comfortably inside any sensible definition of a country person but if he had been brought up in the city and worked in a factory would his views be any less valid? This constant playing of the ‘true countryman’ card by supporters of field sports is really a sign of the weakness of their arguments.

  5. Add to your list of disadvantages of lowland shooting the health and safety issues of maze game cover. Leaving the cobs on (out of reach of the pheasants) leads to a build up of rats over the lean winter when they should die. Ploughing them in during the hungry gap causes them to disperse and local house holders to call in the poison brigade. It also supports an unnaturally high wither survival of grey squirrels, if you can have a natural population level of an introduced species.
    Next time you see a maize cover crop look for the rat holes along the adjacent hedge.
    The maize does support a spring finch population but a change to Millet would do the same and leave rats and squirrels less advantaged. Maybe DEFRA could change the rules (!) to discourage the lazy mans maize and encourage millet. Just a suggestion for improvement from a observant townie to stuck in the mud countrymen.

  6. Thank you Pete. Your article was a very interesting read. I’ve always been against so-called ‘country sports’ so it was instructive to read of the journey of one brought up in that environment to a position closer (if not actually ‘close’) to mine.

    We have to get rid of this stupid idea of ‘country folk’ and ‘townies’. It might have had some validity when Thomas Hardy was writing his novels but at that time you very definitely lived on the land or in towns. Nowadays people born and brought up in the country often either commute into an office in town, or have actually moved there. Many who were born in the big city have moved out for one reason or another; many have retired to ‘a place in the country’. Such blurring of the ‘either / or’ of course makes it easier to dismiss someone as a townie, or even as a country bumpkin, but in reality all either insult actually means is that their viewpoint is disagreed with.

    In a related point, dismissing anti-blood sports people as ‘townies’ is a very poor tactic for the pro’s. The world has turned, the industrial revolution happened, and the inhabitants of our towns and cities must outnumber the country-dwellers many times over. As with the fox-hunting debate and legislation, in a democratic society its a battle they can only lose.

  7. A good blog; I too have lived in the countryside for over 40 years, and even when living in suburbia as a chid spent a lot of time in the countryside. I am certyainly not a townie, by residence or inclination. I own a range of livestock, and am niot opposed to others indulging in so-called sports. I do hover oppose chasing wildlife with hounds, I do oppose using lead in shot, and I do oppose releasing 50 million or more tame pheasants into the wild. I also object to shooting small migrant birds like snipe and woodcock, just as I oppse turtle dove and warbler hunting in the Med. I don’t oppose the local rabbiters and their ferrets, nor do I objct to woodpigeons being culled. And even deer, if culled humanely, and there is a real need, I don’t see as a problem. But as Pete writes, the big problem with the majority of the huntin’ shootin’ and fishing’ fraternity is they feel they ahve to defend the indefensible as it might be the thin end of the wedge on their ‘sport’. Trophy hunting is pretty indefensible, and just as trapm shooting of pigeons was considered inhumane, I would say the same thing about releasing millions of pheasants, for city bankers to blaze away at, leaving lots peppered to die a slow, lead poisoned death.

    1. Speciest! Hunt big ugly stuff/pests but not small delicate prey? Tell that to the natural world if we are to be divorced from it. A tad selective John. Indeed plenty of poor practice in fieldsports, conservation and factory farming. Please do join me for my talk on rewilding in spring 16 to explore some of these areas.

  8. turn the “townie” argument on its head, if I resided in a city all my life but had a lifelong hobby in fieldsports then I couldn’t call myself a city dweller?

    Living in the scottish countryside asa young boy in the 1950s [well before the conservation movement took hold up here] I was well aware that most farmers wouldnt allow the local foxhunt on their land. They didnt like fox-hunting, they didnt need fox-hunting and they found it disrupting to their livestock – were they all “townies”?

    1. Likewise I knew plenty of farmers and other rural landowners who weren’t keen on foxhunting over their land. I remember going to talk to one whose land we were arranging to lease about it – he had always been afraid to go up against Lord Grantham et al but was delighted that he could stop them at last and blame us!

  9. Apologies if this has already been pointed out – but it’s worth noting that the argument “you’re not a real countryperson” is a classic case of what is covered (quite well, in fact) in Wikipedia under the heading “No true Scotsman”: (I also rather like the first line of that article – “For the practice of wearing a kilt without undergarments, see True Scotsman” – but I’m not sure if that is relevant here.)

  10. In his wonderful book Shorelands Summer Diary (1952), the renowned country and wildlife artist C F Tunnicliffe, on witnessing a Shelduck shot in error by an experienced ‘sportsman’, says this: ‘Let no one tell me that the so-called “sportsman” with a gun is usually a good naturalist. I have not found it so.’ A comment perhaps worth remembering in relation to the conversation described in Pete’s blog.

      1. It wasn’t. I have never had a pint of Ringwood Fortyniner but I do wear a flat cap on occasion. When I do I am flat-capped. Neither would I describe myself as a countryman even though I live in the country, any more than my father was an authority on white fish despite working at the White Fish Authority

          1. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a flat-clapped countryman (or townie for that matter) 😉

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