The Game Fair 2023 at Ragley Hall was a celebration of the best of British field sports and country life. More than 100,000 people attended the event in Warwickshire. It was three days of fun for shooters, families, friends and four-legged friends. But storm clouds are gathering for Fieldsports. The threats to the rural way of life and country sports are growing.
. One of the champions of the countryside at the Game Fair, film star and footballer Vinnie Jones, is a patron of the National Gamekeepers Organisation. He says: “It’s always been a battle. It’s been a battle since I was a kid and we’ve got to keep spreading the word and keep doing things properly in the countryside.” He says it’s important country pursuits are properly and people abide by the law. He says: “People have to follow the rules and regulations and not do ridiculous things to put us under pressure.”
Where there’s an attack, there’s a fightback. As hunting, shooting and fishing enthusiasts came together from all over the UK, Fieldsports groups used the opportunity to spotlight the challenges facing the community.
During the three-day event, they launched a range of initiatives to tackle conservation issues and threats to countryside pursuits. BASC launched its new Wildlife Fund. It awards grants to fund conservation projects in the UK and abroad. It also provides loans for land purchase.
The Countryside Alliance launched the Action for Hunting initiative. It recognises the threats facing trail hunting. It highlights how hunts and supporters can take action to help secure hunting with hounds for generations to come. The chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, says it’s important that hunting addresses some fundamental issues to ensure that it has a future well beyond any government. He says: “It’s very likely there will be a manifesto commitment by Labour. They will legislate, I think, quite early in a parliament. The issue is about hunting, addressing that, making sure that it is perceived to be legitimate. That the activity is legal and therefore there’s no justification for draconian legislation.”
The government has made it hard to hunt a fox from a horse, but it encourages us to hunt foxes with rifles and shotguns. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust launched a scientific overview on predation management. It is the first in a series of ‘think pieces’ from the trust which offers expert guidance on a range of issues and challenges facing the rural community.
Amber Hopgood, of the GWCT, helped write the report. She says: “We started with the hottest topic which is predation management. We’ve outlined all the ways which we think predation management should happen, when it should happen. Really what makes a sustainable ethical process and the kind of guidelines that we instil in that.”
She says it’s outlining that if you’re going to do it what you need to do it in a way that works for each specific context, in a way that’s ethical and sustainable. It’s backed up peer reviewed and scientific examples to
The Game Fair has star quality. Charlie spent all weekend interviewing celebrities and politicians in the Carter Jonas Game Fair Theatre. Vinnie Jones was at the game fair meeting fans as an ambassador for Harkila. He says: “I would just say carry on with your country pursuits, do them properly, stick together and read everything that’s out there. We need to have game fairs for people to come in and get a different outlook on the countryside.”
Fieldsports groups say the rural community must work together to protect the countryside.
Paul Williamson, of BASC, says: “It’s not just pulling a trigger. Gamekeepers do fantastic work with sustainability, conservation, the ground nesting birds, creating a habitat within the woodland environment. It’s wonderful and it’s work we should advocate and support.”
Tim Bonner, of the Countryside Alliance, says there’s a fight on for shooting and licensing. He says: “That’s definitely a real battleground, but one that’s unlikely to be played out on the floor of the House of Commons. This is more likely to see us in the courts.”
He says the alliance will be working its partners, Aim To Sustain, BASC and the NGO. He says: “We need to ensure that at every level within natural England, within DEFRA, that there’s a real understanding of the value of shooting. It’s social, economic and conservation value and that restricting it is, is doing damage to the rural community as a whole.”
Vinnie says there too many people from outside rural communities trying to put their stamp on it. He says: “We need to educate them nicely. This is the big barrier. People from the countryside, are not going to change their views and people in the towns aren’t going to change their views. So it needs the truth to be told. You know, there’s certain people that won’t tell the truth.”
Fieldsports groups want to defend the rural way of life and their sporting passions so they can be enjoyed by future generations. After a weekend like we had at Ragley Hall, the countryside is right behind them.