by Deborah Hadfield
Fieldsports groups say it’s the thin end of a wedge that could extend to the rest of the UK. Wales plans to ban, then license game shooting.
The Welsh government’s rural agency Natural Resources Wales proposes to issue licences for all gamebird release.
To start with, it will be a general licences system for most shoots. Those near to protected sites will have to apply for a specific licence if they want to release pheasants or red leg partridges.
BASC chief executive Ian Bell says the consultation is happening because antis are opposed to shooting in Wales. he says the fieldsports community needs to make its views heard.
He says: “We are a million people who engage in this, and all our voices can be heard.
“This is the start. We’ve already seen it happen elsewhere, and we will see it happen again after this.”
NRW says it wants public approval, so it has opened a 12-week consultation.
Fieldsports organisations says this fight is about weight of numbers. They want everyone to take part, wherever they live.
Ian says: “Our views need to be heard, and this consultation is not bounded by Wales. It’s not bounded by the United Kingdom. We have a community of a million of us in the UK, 7 million of us across Europe, and as many of those who can take part and his voices can be heard, will help get our message across.”
In the experience of Steve Griffiths, BASC’s Wales director, numbers count.
He says: “If you want something banned, you get the passion to get involved. If you don’t and keep your head in the sand and think that, hopefully, things work out, then that’s a problem.”
Welsh farmer Gareth Wyn Jones is also a shooter. He is fearful that if people don’t push back against the consultation it will lead to the government damaging a way of life. He says: “I am somebody that enjoys shooting, that loves to go and harvest his own food with friends. I don’t get my many opportunities to go out with people. This is one of the things I can do over the winter months and enjoy other people’s company of the same kind of mindset.”
NRW claims it wants to manage game bird releases. It admits that game shooting provides environmental, social, and economic benefits.
Gareth says gamekeepers are an important part of the countryside. He says: “The money that’s generated around this is unreal. Wales’s government should be protect this and protecting these little shoots.”
Gareth is part of a small shooting syndicate. He says: “We go out every two weeks to harvest food that I bring home. I pluck, I skin, and I put [the birds] in my freezer. I’m still eating them now, and I will be eating them until the beginning of next season. This is what we do. We hunt and gather. We’re farmers, we’re country people. Please don’t take another one of our passions away from us.”
NRW claims it wants to ‘manage’ gamebird releases. It admits that game shooting provides environmental, social, and economic benefits.
Steve says that when the government proposes general licenses, the danger is they can be changed every year on a whim. He says: “We know this sort of system can allow for mission creep and there are huge risks to shooting, particularly here in Wales.”
He is concerned the consultation document is trying to the reduce the number of game birds that shoots put down in Wales, either through a general licence or a specific licence for designated landscapes.
Rachel Evans, of Countryside Alliance Wales, says the Welsh government is taking a ‘slow burn approach’ and what they really want is the end of game bird shooting in Wales.
She says: “This is why we must respond to this robustly and in numbers.”
BASC says the licensing scheme is an obvious and unnecessary restriction on shooting, providing NRW and the Welsh government with an open goal for further restrictions and conditions.
Steve says: “A few years ago, they banned shooting on their ground across Wales, then refused covid funding to shooting businesses, which was a legal business to have.”
He says the consultation is another way to attack shooting. He says the government has stated on numerous occasions they do not support shooting ‘live quarry for leisure purposes’.
BASC has launched a campaign platform to raise awareness and galvanise the shooting sector to respond in significant numbers. It says it’s vital for people from outside Wales also support game shooting.
Steve says: “They’re quite happy to take people’s views from across the world. So, we need people them to get involved.”
The Countryside Alliance has launched an e-lobby. Rachel says the government tells her they don’t hear from people from the fieldsports community. She says: “I think it’s really important that now is the time for our people, as they call them, to respond to this consultation. We know that Welsh government play a numbers game to suit them.”
She says when the Welsh government banned game shooting on public land, it referred to a petition of 11,000 names where signatures had come from all over the world. It referred to that petition as something that the people of Wales wanted. She says: “So we really need to knock this up again and get plenty of responses in”.
The Countryside Alliance says Wales could be the first region in the UK to license game shoots. Rachel is worried about what this means for nature and what effect it will have on jobs.
She says Wales depends on shooting, especially in the winter months and in the remotest parts of the principality. She says: “We know the countryside can provide 365-days-a-year tourism because of game shooting in Wales. They prop up the pubs in the quieter winter months. We know that people go out during these winter months to shoot and that might be the only socialization that they actually undertake.”
She says that shooting is probably the only time that some people get to go out. She says: “They go shooting and then they go for a meal with their friends to finish the day off. It’s hugely important to allow people to harvest their own food.”
She says restricting the number of birds that will be put down in Wales will only restrict the number of shooting days, and that cannot be a benefit to Wales’s rural economy.
The Alliance says that a licence system gives an anti-shooting Welsh Government the power to shut down game shooting in Wales. Rachel says “This seems to be driven by the Welsh government’s anti shooting agenda. This is nothing but a campaign by the animal rights lobby, which have now lobbied Welsh government. So, we see that they do not want to see game shooting in Wales. They can’t ban it outright, but they are certainly trying to tighten the screw to a point where it makes it difficult for people and might put them off undertaking their own small syndicate shoots.
Fieldsports groups say this is likely to be one of many attacks on shooting sports. Ian says he expects to see more anti shooting legislation proposed. He says: “We’ve seen more of it over the last few years. It’s not going to get any easier unless we demonstrate that we are relevant. We help governments achieve their biodiversity aims, and we help conservation. Our voice needs to be heard.”
Rachel says it’s important that everyone steps up to the plate. She says the Countryside Alliance is here to offer support and will be providing a briefing note. She says: “Please do not sit back, be part of this numbers game that Welsh government like to play and get your responses in.”
Steve says if it succeeds in Wales then other countries in the UK can expect the same kind of legislation. He says: “We see it time and time again. Something happens in one devolved nation, then creeps over the border and happens in the other. We know that where we are in Wales now if we don’t fight then it could be exactly the same in England in a few years’ time.”
Gareth says: “We need shooting in our countryside. It’s part of our heritage and it’s part of our tradition, and we should be showcasing it and we should be supporting it.”
Click here for the consultation