Fieldsports groups claim shooting is under threat from over-regulation: you can’t shoot a magpie in Wales but you can in England, the Scottish government plans to restrict the use of gundogs, and DEFRA wants a ban on lead airgun pellets. Those are just a few of the pointless new laws affecting shooting.
Aim to Sustain, the partnership of rural organisations including BASC, the Countryside Alliance and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, is fighting back by making the case for self-regulation in shooting. They are collecting evidence about how shoots benefit the countryside, and they want you to take part.
Roger Draycott of the GWCT says the survey is a valuable tool.
He says: “It will enable us to collect a lot of data which will help us to formulate and consolidate good practice across game shoots and across all the shooting community.”
He says the information is important as self-regulation is developed.
He says: “It will provide confidence to governments and the general public that the shooting community is a force for good, for nature, conservation, rural economies and these wider social benefits as well.”
Scotland is on the cusp of making shooting grouse more difficult and introducing a licensing regime for grouse moors. The Scottish government says it is trying to counter claims of poor and illegal practice by gamekeepers.
Jake Swindells, of the Countryside Alliance in Scotland, says in response to Professor Alan Werritty’s review of grouseshooting, which was published in November 2020, the Scottish Government ignored recommendations to consider a licensing scheme should incidents of raptor persecution not significantly decrease over the following five year period.
He says: “Instead, it was decided that anyone who shoots grouse, whether driven or walked up, should be licensed, and a public consultation was launched at the end of 2022. The Wildlife Management Grouse Bill is also being used as a vehicle to introduce restrictions relating to trapping and snaring, as well as muirburn.”
The Welsh Government admits openly that it is anti-shooting, even though shooting sports are legal and benefit the environment, the rural economy and are socially cohesive. It is set to ban snares.
One risk of new legislation is that antis in government can use it to introduce wider restrictions than politicians originally promise.
Roger says that if shooting doesn’t have effective self-regulation, then it’s clear that there will be statutory regulation. He says; “Statutory regulation would involve wider stakeholder consultation and it will involve many that are not directly involved in game management or indeed have a moral objection to game shooting.”
He says this could negatively impact the sector, which then could potentially be damaging for the environment, rural economies and the social benefits that shooting provides too.”
Jake says a number of concerns have been raised by rural organisations.
He says: “Some are technicalities within the bill which will make the administration more onerous than it should be.” He says there are major questions over who should be licensed and what this means for landowners. He says: ”As it stands, the wording is such that any wildlife crime committed on that land may result in the license being revoked. This is in direct contradiction of the reason why the bill was brought about, which was specifically to tackle raptor persecution alone.”
Aim to Sustain hopes that the results of its shoot survey will lay to rest the spectre of raptor persecution by gamekeepers, which the RSPB and other uses to tarnish the image of shooting.
Roger says most shoots and most people involved in shooting operate to very high standards. He says: ”But it is always the minority that are the ones that are bringing the sector into disrepute. And these are the ones that unfortunately hit the headlines.”
He says that all the good work tends to go unnoticed or is underreported. He says: “I also sense that there’s a growing frustration within the shoot community that it feels misunderstood or misrepresented.”
He adds that Aim to Sustain seeks to address this through the development of a set of self-regulation standards. He says: “This will help the sector be viewed in a more positive light by those who question, for example, the environmental credentials of shoots.”
GWCT research shows that, when shoots follow best practice guidelines, they deliver biodiversity benefits. Roger says self-regulation can only really be effective if all those who are involved are actively engaged in that process and on board with the self-regulatory mechanisms that will likely be developed over the next few months.
Jake says the Scottish Government is continuing to squeeze every sector within rural Scotland. He says: “Wildlife management and issues are really under the cosh and the knock on effect is ultimately a negative impact on endangered species and a reduced income for thousands of rural workers and employers.”