All change or no change?

BASC are having elections to their Council – it’s an interesting field of candidates. Clearly I don’t get a vote and I’d be struggling to find my favourite candidates having read the statements of them all. There’s an awful lot of ‘we’ve got to fight the external enemy’ in the statements and precious little ‘we’ve got to put our own house in order’.

These views seem to me to consist of a false analysis of shooting’s problems. As long as the likes of BASC portray the likes of me as wanting to end all shooting of live targets rather than wanting shooting to clean up its act then shooting is never likely to clean up its act, and I’m not likely to go away. The pressure for change in shooting is not only from anti-shooting campaigners (and if they were to succeed in their aim I wouldn’t shed a tear) but also from those who see a large number of serious problems with the way that shooting for fun is carried out in the UK and want to see reform.

Personally, I don’t think shooting wild animals for fun is doomed. It will be a long time before public opinion is strongly enough behind an end to shooting live prey for that to be a real possibility.

The areas where shooting is most vulnerable are areas of poor practice and where shooting imposes costs on the rest of society. For example, the continued use of lead shot, particularly of species that end up in the human food chain, is crazy and BASC is now moving very slowly in the right direction, but oh so slowly. And it looks as though it has been forced to change rather than that it is leading and embracing change – it’s exactly the wrong way to win any brownie points that might be going for doing the right thing. Intransigence on lead ammunition is an almost completely self-administered injury for shooting. Don’t look outside, look inside your industry.

Then there is raptor persecution – wildlife crime. Although BASC has at times said some sensible things on this subject they are so rare, and seem to add up to no action at all, that, again, they are practically useless in showing shooting in a good light. Does anyone really see BASC as an ally in the fight against wildlife crime? Nobody that I know! When a hobby is well and truly linked to crime then it must clean up its act or face the consequences of public opinion. Shooting has not done this, and it ought to be BASC that takes the lead, but they haven’t. This is another self-inflicted wound. It’s shooting’s problem to solve and it doesn’t even look like it’s trying to solve it. Don’t expect the pressure to go away – it can only mount.

Then of course there is the large-scale and unregulated shooting of species under the general licences. The relish with which shooters talk about killing so-called pests is another self-imposed injury. I suppose it is OK to wax lyrical about the thrill you get from shooting a Pheasant or a Red Grouse, after all, there is no other reason for doing it than that you enjoy it (which of course will put off quite a few people) but controlling Carrion Crows or Woodpigeons is illegal except under certain carefully prescribed conditions of need. Telling the world how much you enjoy it is going to give a strong impression of the motivation behind your hobby. And if you get the science behind all this so sadly wrong then you are up against it. ‘We like shooting Jays and Jackdaws even though there is precious little evidence that they cause problems for nature conservation’ is not a winning argument (though it may be with this government).

And then there is the massively escalating scale of uncontrolled and unregulated releases of non-native gamebirds for the provision of big bags. Many in shooting are concerned about this practice but numbers of birds released grow year on year. It’s unseemly and it’s also rather difficult to go on about shooting’s grand traditions when releases have increased 10-fold in a generation of shooters. And it’s yet another self-imposed injury to shooting’s reputation.

Shooting will always be under attack from those who (perfectly legitimately) think that it is wrong, morally wrong, to kill other living creatures for fun. But failing to reform the obvious problems in your hobby is madness.

But there is just the one area of game shooting that certainly has to end, and I want it to end, and that, of course, is driven grouse shooting. This is an unsustainable activity almost from every perspective. The science shows that it is dependent on wildlife crime in its current format, and that it is damaging on a whole range of environmental measures. Ending driven grouse shooting, and allowing walked up grouse shooting, would clearly not be the end of shooting, nor even the end of grouse shooting, but it would be a massive step forward for upland Britain.

Driven grouse shooting is going to come to an end in years rather than decades – it is so flawed that it cannot survive. If you removed raptor persecution and moorland burning from the mix then you cannot have the intensive driven grouse shooting that exists only in the UK. The financial viability of driven grouse shooting cannot be sustained once wildlife crime is eliminated and environmentally damaging torching of th uplands is removed.

And so it is of some interest that there has been change at the top of the Moorland Association which has a new Chair (see RaptorpersecutionUK on him), Vice-Chair and President. Let’s hope that Matt Ridley can do for the Moorland Association what he did for Northern Rock (and see here for his credentials on this subject)! What will the new team come up with? And will they persevere with Amanda Anderson who has a winning smile but is bereft of winning arguments?

But there is also a new kid on the block – the Campaign 4 Protection of Moorland Communities. This group talks tougher and looks younger than the Moorland Association – maybe it’s a replacement for YFTB (who still have a cracking male Montagu’s Harrier on their Hen Harrier page). I’ll wait to see whether there is any sort of split in moorland managers and owners or whether the old Moorland Association and the young C4PMC will actually be working together, perhaps to try to make the Moorland Association look more reasonable and prevent Amanda from having to spin so many far-fetched yarns for her male bosses.

Driven grouse shooting is doomed anyway.


5 Replies to “All change or no change?”

  1. An excellent and concise summary Mark, times are changing and changing fast. You have two qualities which give great credibility to this blog – you know your subject and the science behind it; you also have the mind to assess the odds.
    There are thinking shooters but it’s a shame that they won’t give voice.

  2. A very good and perceptive blog Mark. A large part of which I agree. I personally would like to see an end to every kind of shooting of our wildlife for fun. I think it is an abomination and if it were left to me (which it isn’t of course) I would not allow any person to own his own gun.
    However where I do have some issue with you is that you are only pushing the shooters to “clean up their act”. I think unless one takes a more decisive approach like raising the threat of banning general shooting of our wildlife for fun, then we are not going to see these shooting organisations even “cleaning up their act”. There are a lot of shooters (not all) who are not much better than thugs. The only way I think there will be enough incentive for shooting organisations to clean out these sorts of people Is if they really feel that if they don’t do this and they don’t stop abusing the environment, especially the uplands then they will loose their shooting rights altogether.
    May be we are saying much the same thing but in a slightly different way but I think the only way we will see any progress is if these shooting organisations feel their future is really under threat. After all shooting, I am told, has declined dramatically in The Nederlands recently because of the general antipathy towards itand legislation to significantly restrict it.

  3. A pithy analysis, thank you.

    To your list of issues to be addressed by shooting interests I would add animal welfare: I recently completed a review of the evidence about the welfare of shooting. There is almost no evidence about the ‘efficiency’ of shooting birds and mammals and what little there is derives mainly from mainland Europe and North America.

    Shooters in the UK, to obtain a shotgun certificate or a firearms licence, must be able to demonstrate certain attributes but none of these relate to ensuring humane dispatch. The voluntary Deer Stalking Certificate covers certain aspects of animal welfare but what little evidence there is about the accuracy of shooting deer suggests that standards are not particularly high (Urquhart & Mckendrick (2003)). There are no widely adopted standards for the shooting of birds in the UK.

    Even Government-sanctioned killing of wildlife is poorly scrutinised: the report of the Independent Expert Panel (chair: Ronald Munro) scrutinised the first wave of licensed badger killing in 2013. Despite concluding that ‘standards of effectiveness and humaneness must be improved’ and recommending that ‘Continuation of monitoring, of both effectiveness and humaneness, is necessary to demonstrate that improvements have been achieved’, the proportion of controlled shooting currently monitored by the Government in 2019 is substantially lower than during the 2013 pilots.

    Contrast this with the efforts to ensure the welfare of farm animals and pets. The evidence of sentience in all animals continues to build. We must assume that the capacity to suffer is the same in wild animals as it is in other animals. Whatever your views are about the eating of meat and shooting, I am sure we would all want to ensure that animals are dispatched humanely. The least we should expect is that shooters are demonstrably competent and subject to a degree of 3rd party scrutiny.

  4. All so true Mark and it seems the Moorland Assoc has shown its true colours (or a death wish) electing as the new chair Mark Cunliffe-Lister the owner of Swinton estate, which has shall we say a certain reputation, remember Bowland Betty.

  5. Personally, I don’t think shooting wild animals for fun is doomed. It will be a long time before public opinion is strongly enough behind an end to shooting live prey for that to be a real possibility.

    Just because it isn’t doomed anytime soon doesn’t make it any less doomed. It is ultimately doomed. And we all have a responsibility to shove public opinion as hard as we can in that direction. As well as interfering in shooting, and all field sports’, day to day activities to make it as hard as possible for them on that road to extinction too. Make it as unenjoyable and hard for them as possible, while shoving the rest of the great British pudding into doing the same.

    Thankfully the fieldsports lobby is our best ally in all of that, because the thing they shoot first is their own feet.

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