Today the Game Fair opens under a cloud – however sunny a day it might be in Hertfordshire.
From the top to the bottom those involved in shooting have, by their words and actions, lowered the reputation of game-shooting as a legitimate pastime. And yes, I recognise that there are many decent and honourable people who enjoy shooting but their reputation is being tarnished by others.
Let’s take a step back. Remember You Forgot the Birds? An organisation set up to attack the RSPB and funded by grouse shooters. Why? Because the RSPB had dared to criticise grouse shooting and its dependence on wildlife crime and called for licensing of this land use. The RSPB hadn’t done anything worthy of such an attack, indeed the RSPB was, and is, far too mild in its criticism of grouse shooting to the point of continuing to suck up to grouse shooting interests, but the attacks on RSPB were vicious, supported by shooting organisations and were a sign of massive intolerance. A main architect of those attacks was Ian Gregory whose PR company Abzed was formerly more outspoken about its tactics in attacking the RSPB (see here) than it is now. Back in 2016 the Guardian’s John Vidal described Abzed’s approach as ‘a classic “astroturfing” PR operation that gives the impression of a grassroots operation, suggesting the public and landowners all hate the RSPB, but which actually represents the views of very few anonymous landowners.‘. It’s all a bit shabby isn’t it? I wonder whatever happened to Ian Gregory? Well, I’m told that he is appearing at the Game Fair on a panel of experts this morning at 10am. That’s who the Game Fair chooses to speak to its constituency. Fair enough, everyone deserves the right to talk nonsense and have it seen as that.
Ian Gregory will be sitting next to two other experts at the Game Fair theatre this morning. One is Andrew Gilruth, the GWCT’s spin doctor. Known affectionately to some as Andrew Kill Truth, his job appears to be to muddy the waters wherever there is water lapping up against GWCT. Here are some very recent examples of GWCT water-muddying (Countryfile, cherry picking, and its reaction to Wild Justice’s call for a Defra assessment of the impacts of non-native gamebirds on UK wildlife) but there are many, many more. There is a lot of unease in Fordingbridge where GWCT scientists, who hardly ever get to speak in public these days, resent the spin put on their work by Andrew Gilruth, presumably with the enthusiastic blessing of GWCT Chief Exec, Teresa Dent, who is a Board member of Natural England. I imagine Andrew and Ian will be vying for the title of Game Shooting’s Spin Doctor of the Year but alongside them is another character. But everyone deserves the right to talk nonsense and have it seen as that
Robin Page is the third member of the Game Fair chosen panel this morning; a spent force, but, for old times’ sake, everyone deserves the right to talk nonsense and have it seen as that .
I would have been at the meeting of these three remarkable men and I would have taken great delight in reporting back to you their bon mots and piercing analysis but, as you may know, I’ve been ‘uninvited’ from the Game Fair. I was to have gone through a 30 minute grilling, on whatever subjects he wanted to ask me, from Charlie Jacoby of Fieldsports Channel but the powers that be at the Game Fair abruptly told me, through a third party, that I was persona non grata. Well, those who made the decision did not have the decency to contact me and tell me themselves that I was banned from Game Fair but BASC seem to think that I am an extremist according to their recent highly unpleasant statement about Chris Packham. Everyone deserves the right to talk nonsense and have it seen as that if it is so, except not Chris Packham or myself, it seems.
It says something about the state of shooting that the Game Fair gives a platform to Ian Gregory, Andrew Gilruth and Robin Page and then runs scared from the mildest and most reasonable of partly-dissenting voices such as myself. I wouldn’t complain if the Game Fair hadn’t invited me in the first place, I was slightly surprised (but moderately impressed) that they did, but then to uninvite both myself and Chris Packham (CBE for service to nature conservation) is a sign of panic, lack of confidence and intolerance of which the shooting industry should be mightily ashamed. It is a PR disaster entirely of their own making.
Let us hope that Defra Minister Robert Goodwill is fully aware of the way his hosts behave as he visits the Game Fair. And as the minister looks around at the crowd at the Game Fair toay he will see thousands who are there just for a day out, not because they support any form of fieldsport but because it is quite a fun event in places. But as the minister looks across the faces in the crowds he should be wondering how many of them are capable of the type of public abuse to which Wild Justice directors (myself, Chris Packham and Ruth Tingay) are subjected (see the Wild Justice blog here – but not if you are of a sensitive disposition).
I have friends who shoot, and even more who fish, and some who hunt or hunted, and so I am entirely aware that many, many fieldsports participants are as decent people as you and I (ie not too bad but flawed as we all are). So I am not tarring everyone with the same brush, far from it. But there is something that stinks about game shooting organisations and the way they behave these days – and yes, I mean that. The GWCT has completely lost my respect over the years because of how it has changed – my old mate Dick Potts would, I am perfectly sure, be saddened by this too. BASC has spasms of reasonableness interspersed with spasms of nastiness – a situation which destroys trust or admiration because it now behaves as an organisation with no moral compass. The Countryside Alliance has always been the attack dog and the Moorland Association is always denying the reality of wildlife crime within its membership.
Things have changed greatly in the last 20 years and not for the better; the bad apples are in charge of the barrels.