With battles to be fought including trophy hunting, lead shot and the future of gamekeeping, we ask the candidates for the 2020 BASC Council elections – people who care about their shooting – what their views are. How should BASC and the world of shooting approach these and other topics? Is it even BASC’s job?
BASC’s history took it from a wildfowling organisation (WAGBI) set up in 1908, to becoming representative of all areas of shooting sports, including gamekeeping and deerstalking. It has maintained a solid core of ‘working man and his gun’, surviving the loss of a large number of gamekeepers to the newly-formed National Gamekeepers Organisation in the late 1990s (splitters!) and a sometimes effective, sometimes disastrous system of BASC regional offices.
The 2020s will be marked with many battlegrounds for shooting sports. Here is what the candidates say about them.
When the grey suits of Scotland’s Central Belt were working out what to do about stoats on Orkney, they decided against calling on gamekeepers, even though one of the top gamekeeping colleges in the UK is based just a few miles away in Thurso. They hired the RSPB.
Now the RSPB is fighting to bring down the profession of gamekeeper and replace it with its own staff. Should BASC put up a fight for the job of gamekeeping, or should it cave in and allow organisations such as the RSPB to take over the ‘ownership’ of wildlife management in the UK?
Many candidates say BASC must defend the institution of gamekeeper. They can’t believe shooting has lost so much ground on the subject.
Some, including Michael Madgwick, see BASC as a vehicle to push messages about the sustainability and conservation benefits of shooting. Based in Wiltshire and a member for 33 years, he predicts that the word ‘gamekeeper’ could be replaced by ‘conservation manager’.
Shooting as part of mainstream society
Shooting is too easily no-platformed in this modern, ‘cancel’ culture. It was left out of all government materials dealing with the leisure sector as the UK started to come out of coronavirus lockdown, even though it is one of the biggest participation sports in the UK.
Should it be BASC’s role to help shooting rejoin mainstream society? Dr Al Gabriel thinks so. The Newcastle-based molecular biologist calls himself an ‘advocate for diversity, equality and women in shooting’.
The BASC ‘club’
Of course, the reason BASC has such a gigantic membership – more than a quarter of all UK gun licence holders – are the member benefits. Everyone knows that. Where the Countryside Alliance made its name as a campaigning organisation, BASC is, by comparison, a comfortable club, offering members insurance, tickets to game fairs and free advice on firearms.
Paul Mayfield ably represents the clubbable nature of BASC in his biog. He says: ‘For me, the social side of shooting makes me come back every time; the people, the characters and the good times are a tonic.’
Should BASC merge with other countryside organisations?
This niggle has been around so long that hardened BASC staff can now only no longer decide on whether it is a red herring, white elephant or just a canard. Back in the 1990s, when it was due to be discussed at an AGM, a surprising number of wildfowlers turned up in coaches and made sure it wasn’t.
However, if it is, Wiltshire-based businessman David Fry is the man to do it. He wants ‘closer collaboration across the many field sports organisations to create a critical mass, thus gaining maximum leverage to get the government’s attention and the public at large’.
Shooting’s poor representation in the media is – it is widely proposed on Facebook – something BASC should deal with. But there are tough questions to answer about how to achieve that.
Should BASC be a source of media, or should it simply issue press releases and allow other media to tell its story? i.e. Should BASC be the Ministry of Shooting and allow Fieldsports Channel be the BBC, or should it take control of its own media audience and become a significant media creator? Should it be an ombudsman that can take misrepresentation of shooting in other media to task with authorities such as OFCOM, the ASA, IPSO and even the police?
Dr Al Gabriel has a specific proposal in his electoral statement for how to deal with the media. He wants BASC to look at, ‘the possibility of creating a new special branch of BASC with full-time employees whose role is to horizon-scan for upcoming challenges, monitor the spread of misinformation and update BASC council and the executives in real-time so that we are never caught off-guard. Let’s stop the rot of anti-shooting headlines and actions. We can do this by restructuring existing assets and recruiting new talent to be the eyes and ears of BASC. They can work with the individuals out there fighting the cause on their own on social, local and national media, who currently go unnoticed. Our opposition is organised, financially backed and already doing all this.’
To some, media is a method of providing ‘public education’. All candidates wish for greater public understanding of shooting sports and the countryside.
Karl Waktare wants BASC to push the ‘health, conservation and employment’ benefits of shooting. He doesn’t say to whom he would like those messages pushed – parliamentarians? The public? Karl is a Hampshire-based gun distributor with one of the biggest agency jobs in the UK. He represents Beretta. He aims to deploy his ‘commercial experience’ to help BASC.
Geoffrey Burgess from Sussex says: ‘Most members of the public are not enthusiastic about either private gun ownership or game shooting. BASC and the other organisations need to work together to develop a common approach and strategy to educate the wider public, as well as the politicians, that shooting is a legitimate sport, pest control is essential for agriculture, forestry, habitat management, and that game is both sustainable and dealt with respect and in a humane way.’
BASC prides itself on having good parliamentary candidates. The 2019 presents challenges. There is a new intake of urban Tory MPs with no understanding of the countryside. The failure of BASC and the Countryside Alliance to get anything positive for shooting into any of the party manifestos means that reaching these people is now doubly difficult. The ‘Carrie Factor’ – Boris Johnson’s fiance’s well-known animal rights agenda makes it triply difficult. Grouseshooters are not welcome at Number 10.
Duncan’s Greaves’ priorities for BASC are ‘ ill-informed MPs, television presenters and journalists that provide the bandwagon for the anti-shooting brigade to jump on’. From Yorkshire, Duncan is a BASC member to his bootstraps. 36 years a member, including 15 on the BASC Council, he works for a company that provides firearms traiing and assists at BASC coaching lines at game fairs.
An obvious choice for anyone worried that BASC may be losing its grip on parliament is a former MP. Martyn Jones held the Clwyd seat for Labour for 23 years. He lives almost next to BASC’s Marford Mill headquarters. He says: ‘It is my fervent belief that if we don’t engage politically at all levels in the political arena, we will lose our sport. We have examples of this already; the Welsh government ban on shooting on government land and Liverpool council banning a shooting show are just two of them.’
And that neatly introduces another area that BASC has to deal with.
A new governing class
The granular nature of the modern media and the rise of devolution means there is a huge area of government that BASC has so far shown no competence to reach. It consists of regional parliaments, local government, the wider civil service, NGOs such as the Forestry Commission, National Trust and John Muir Trust, the police, and judiciary.
Professor Ann Mortimer, who has already served five years on BASC Council, makes an impassioned case that this is the biggest job BASC has in front of it. The Yorkshire-based doctor and consultant psychiatrist says: ‘BASC must become a powerful, campaigning, political force, given escalating and unprecedented threats to shooting. BASC must at the same time greatly strengthen its engagement with its members and their needs. BASC must be both ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ as an organisation. The importance and value of mobilising our members, of all types, in achieving the normalisation of shooting sports among the undecided majority cannot be underestimated. BASC will best serve in this regard as a dispersed, enabling body. It must support the membership in local political influence, underpin joint initiatives to introduce shooting’s conservation, culinary and other benefits, especially to young people, while developing a highly visible presence at any event where there may be public interest.’
Mark Shillito might equally be the man for this. The Norfolk-based London lawyer says ‘it has never been more important for BASC to make the positive case for the wide-ranging benefits of fieldsports in the conservation of our countryside’. He wants ‘to influence policy and to secure the future of shooting for the benefit of all those who live, work or take pleasure in the restorative powers of the countryside.’
‘Events, dear boy’, as Harold Macmillan put it: earlier this year, BASC made a significant course alteration when it came out in favour of trophy hunting. It took the Zac Goldsmith’s ‘whitewash’ enquiry into trophy hunting suddenly to include deerstalking, but BASC is now a proponent of trophy hunting.
So should BASC cover overseas trophy hunting? None of the candidates talk about this in their personal statements. They all talk about it in our film.
To vote, visit vote.ukevote.uk/basc
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