Fear and fantasy: how officials use coronavirus to crack down on fieldsports

At a time when panic-buying could potentially lead to social disorder, the government has decided to target the very people who protect the nation’s supply of meat and crops.

In Scotland, the refusal of local lawmakers to include gamekeepers and shooting-related businesses in a financial aid plan appears to have been the tip of an iceberg.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association slams the lack of government support, which it says has pushed some of the smaller operations “to the brink financially”. But it’s only the latest in a series of policies aimed at restricting the hunting and shooting community north of the border.

Before the coronavirus lockdown began, gamekeepers booked buses to take them to a rally planned in Holyrood to demonstrate community unity. The SGA’s PR chief Kenneth Stephen calls it a “crystallisation of a number of issues our members were concerned about”, including curbs on fox control, the removal of deer management from the private to the public sector, the destruction of salmon rivers, and a series of attacks on grousemoor management that apperared to be driven by celebrities rather than scientists. Conveniently for the government, it had to be called off or it would have breached lockdown rules.

Highlands MSP and Green rural economy spokesman John Finnie told The Courier newspaper that he objected to cash being used to support ‘blood sport’ businesses. “While rural jobs must be protected, lairds in vast estates should not have to beg for government handouts to pay their staff,” he says.

The Scottish parliament-approved coronavirus crackdown also includes a muirburn ban. Scottish and Welsh fire chiefs acknowledge the help of gamekeepers creating firebreaks by cold-burning sections of moorland in a manner that does not damage underlying peat. Gamekeepers you n Scotland have been hard at work this spring fighting fires started by members of the public who ignore lockdown to have barbecues.

BASC describes the muirburn ban as “completely unnecessary” and accuses the Scottish Green Party of using coronavirus to attack shooting

It’s not just Scotland. In early April, the European Parliament held a vote to ban the trade and consumption of wildlife. It was rejected: 186 MEPs in favour, 53 abstentions, 449 against. Click here for the press release.

In Australia, some state governments have used the coronavirus outbreak to cancel hunting seasons. They also closed down gunshops because, they said, that ammunition sales would lead to more suicides during lockdown. “How many bullets do they think a suicide needs?” asked one Australian shooter.

New Zealand reversed an early decision to ban hunting alongside boating – but allow fishing and surfing. The NZ government now allows hunting and says here that it is developing guidance for hunters.

There is extra pressure on the countryside, as urban councils close public parks. Some gamekeepers report trespass on their ground up fourfold as urban people drive out of towns and cities seeking space.

A public parks in Middlesbrough closed due to coronavirus

A public park in Middlesbrough closed due to coronavirus

Muddled advice from UK prime minister Boris Johnson on acceptable leisure activities have left British shooters wondering whether the solitary sports of pigeonshooting and deerstalking are allowed when there is an exemption for group participation sports such as bicycling. The solitary hobby of surfing is banned, along with non-contact sports including fishing and kayaking.

For coronavirus advice for shooters, visit Fcha.nl/coronavirus