Will Boris shut shooting in England?

It’s hard to imagine being more socially-distanced in a sport than one gunshot away from the next shooter, riding your horse across the English shires, or setting up for a day’s angling. However, the worlds of hunting, shooting and fishing are on tenterhooks. Will Boris ban them under lockdown 2?

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s new restrictions orders specific bans on certain recreations in England, including rifle and archery ranges, golf courses and clay grounds, though the CPSA says it is working on winning an exemption. As coronavirus cases rise in England, Johnson says the new lockdown will be law, will start on 5 November 2020 and will last for four weeks.

The initial advice allows for ‘exercise outdoors’. As well as the recreational exercise it bans, the advice leaves out a number of obviously socially-distanced activities such as sailing, surfing, kayaking and rock-climbing.

It is unclear from the advice whether the new rules will be based on banning all recreation and listing some exemptions, or banning some recreations. Different paragraphs contradict each other. Plus MPs will debate and vote on the new measures on Wednesday 4 November 2020.

Following the government’s recent partisan approach to shooting sports, introducing pheasant release licencing without consultation, many are resigned to a ban on driven shooting. English shoots are already rearranging shoot days booked in November. Both Wales and Ireland introduced bans on organised shoots for their autumn ‘firebreak’ lockdowns.

If the rules are based on the original lockdown in England, this new version is not likely to include deerstalking, nor pest control such as pigeon shooting. Both of these were exempted because they are agricultural activities. However, as last time, the lockdown rules for shooters will come from firearms enquiry officers in each constabulary.

Hunting, shooting and fishing organisations are scrambling to get a national answer and possibly an exemption from either DEFRA or the Home Office, because of the low likelihood of infection from outdoor, rural activities such as fieldsports. BASC’s Duncan Thomas posts on Facebook: ‘I/we can’t comment specifically until we have looked at the new regs in detail and you can expect guidance, as previously, as soon as possible. What remains priority is we remain within the law/guidance, do our collective bit to knock the virus back and get back to “near normal” supporting all our associated businesses/conservation projects ASAP.’

The Hunting Office announces there will be no hunting with hounds during the lockdown. It adds: ‘Hounds should be exercised from the kennels, but this should be done by Hunt Staff only (or a small number of regular volunteers to ensure the safety of hounds on exercise) and only for the purposes of the routine daily care of the hounds. Horses can continue to be exercised from the stables, but only as part of their routine daily care and maintenance of fitness.’

The Angling Trust is busy pressing the case for fishing to be allowed to continue. In a letter to cabinet ministers it says: “We know that socially distanced outdoor sports like angling, golf, cycling etc are not in any way part of the problem. In fact, they contribute multiple benefits not only in terms of health and mental wellbeing during these difficult times but in reducing pressure on parks, footpaths and other open spaces where people would otherwise gather if prohibited from pursuing their chosen pastimes.”

The shooting organisations are keen to avoid the muddle over fieldsports that took place during the last lockdown, with constabularies such as Thames Valley trying to ban shooting and Devon & Cornwall trying to encourage it.

There is a move to extend the gameshooting season into February 2021, to make up for possible lost time in November 2020. In Ireland, which has similar seasons, the National Association of Regional Game Councils is already lobbying for that.

Unlike the last lockdown, Johnson has not announced an immediate exemption for his own favourite recreation, bicycling.

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