Thursday, 26 November 2009


The ProStalk camera nabbed this photo of my night-time visitor last night. There are 9 photos in all, taken in 3 bursts of 3. The info on the card shows that foxy came through twice - once around 8.40pm and then again this morning at around 6.15.

Event 0001 2009/11/25 20:39:06
Event 0002 2009/11/26 06:14:04
Event 0003 2009/11/26 06:15:44

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Finding permission

One of the things we get asked over and over again is "how can I get permission to shoot pigeons?" People ring a few farmers, are told to get lost, and think it's impossible.

So when I met Will Beasley recently for our magazine series on pigeon decoying, I asked him that question. Will and his father Phil run one of the biggest pigeon guiding businesses in Britain, so if anyone knows, it's him.

And here's what he told me, cunningly reproduced via the amazing There's some good tips in here; listen and learn...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

On test: Pro-Stalk trail camera

I've been waiting for an opportunity to test out the £200 Hawke Pro-Stalk camera from Deben - a nifty bit of kit that you set up strapped to a tree, then come back a day later and marvel at the high quality pictures and video it's snapped of any passing wildlife. At least, that's the theory.

Well the opportunity came along today. Long story, but when our local council issued us with slop bins for food waste, they hadn't reckoned on people like me who regularly have to dispose of the inedible bits of assorted pheasants, deer, trout and the like. The answer of course is an environmentally friendly composting scheme, otherwise known as digging a hole at the end of the garden. The foxes seem to think I'm doing this for their benefit, and do their best to dig the juiciest bits up again.

So I thought I'd set up the camera overlooking their latest hole. The instructions seem simple enough. Like any electronic gizmo, you slot in the batteries (4 D-cells), turn it on, then use the menu to set the time, date, etc. You can set up the camera using a combination of slide switches and a menu, to take photos or video, adjust the delay between pictures, and so on.

I've set it with the minimum delay of 1min between triggerings, to take a 90sec video each time it's triggered. During darkness, it should use its built-in infra-red LEDs to film in night vision. The final touch, a scoop of smelly dog food in the bottom of the hole.

Now I just leave it and wait to see what appears on the card...

UPDATE: Well I clearly got something wrong, because this morning the dogfood had gone, but the camera hadn't taken any video. Back to the instructions, which are of limited help because they were translated into English by someone who, er, doesn't exactly count English as their first language. Reading between the lines, though, I see that they're talking about an IR 'flash', rather than 'lamp', which suggests that maybe video isn't an option during darkness. Which could explain why Mr Fox was able to sneak in and eat his meal unrecorded. So tonight I'm setting it to take photos rather than video. And putting another dollop of dogfood down the hole. At this rate I'll be getting an award from the RSPCA for services to foxes!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Bracken in her new home

We picked up Bracken today, full of apprehension as always with a new pup - what will the old dog think of her, will she be ok, are we feeding her right, etc, etc!

Well, so far so good! She's getting on fine with Skye (although Skye was unimpressed by Bracken's attempt to feed from her!), eating well, dropping the usual items around the place, and generally getting into mischief.

Of course she's brought the entire house to a standstill, no work getting done - isn't that what puppies are for?!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Not long now!


That's enough about tiresome antis - on to happier subjects: this young lady will be joining the Marchington family in a week or so (we'll have to get her out of the trouser-chewing habit pdq!). She was bred by Shaun, a Sporting Shooter reader and keen beater/shooter who lives in Reading. By concidence, I had bumped into him in the early days of the magazine when I photographed a shoot run by the father of Sheena, who was our sub-editor at the time. Small world!


Andy Richardson had been pushing us to get a pup earlier this year, but at that time the head ruled the heart and we stayed firm. After several weeks of campaigning by the kids, we caved in - with the result that we went round to Shaun's to view his litter of black labs.


No-one could resist this lot, and in a flash we'd fallen for this one, provisionally named 'Bracken' although Andy will pull my leg mercilessly about that, and we will probably change our minds several times before it's settled. They're almost weaned, and depending how that goes the current plan is that we'll pick her up in about a week's time. Expect this blog to be over-run with cute puppy pictures for some time to come.

Incidentally, last time we spoke to Shaun he had 3 male pups unsold - if you're interested drop me a line and I'll pass your details on.

Anti's rant at the BBC

Douglas Batchelor, £100,000+ p.a. chief exec of the League Against Cruel Sports, is incandescent at BBC Countryfile's excellent coverage of National Taste of Game Week (Julia Bradbury went shooting with game chef Mike Robinson, and shot, cooked and ate a hen pheasant - for the next week or so, you can watch the programme on the BBC iPlayer here).

Batchelor's rant follows the organisation's PR disaster on the start of the hunting season, where the BBC declined to screen some wobbly, pointless video footage which, LACS claimed, showed illegal hunting (LACS have just spent thousands kitting out their 'monitors' with fancy new video cameras, only to discover that the BBC won't ever use their footage, as it infringes their guidelines).

His whiny open letter to the BBC Trust is a feeble attempt to play the 'impartiality' card - as if shooting game was some hugely contentious issue. It isn't. And writing a pack of lies and half-truths to the BBC won't make it so.

Batchelor claims in his letter: "Your report also failed to mention the thousands upon thousands of birds which are shot and then discarded and left to rot". That's an outright lie. I challenge Batchelor to provide a shred of evidence to support his wild claim.

He goes on to talk about: "predator control employed on shooting estates where land is managed for a single species, such as the pheasant, which systematically wipe out any other animals which pose a threat to the birds". What rubbish!

Faced with dwindling public support, and the prospect of a government who will treat them with the contempt they deserve, it seems the antis are resorting to the age-old tactic of telling porkies. There's another example here where LACS are suggesting that a) Being crass and tastless with a dead animal is cruel and illegal and b) Repeal of the hunting act would make it legal again. Neither of which is true.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Firearms law

With my coterminous firearms and shotgun certificates coming up for renewal shortly, I've been rushing round getting 8 identical passport photos, finding 2 upstanding members of the community to vouch for me, filling in all the forms with scrupulous accuracy, etc.

I've been fighting off the temptation to think 'the law is an ass' and 'no wonder criminals don't bother with all this form filling and just get their guns on the black market'. And then this comes along. A regular member of the public, an ex-soldier no less, finds a discarded gun in the street, does the decent thing and hands it in at the police station. And his thanks? He gets a criminal record, and is now facing 5 years in jail.

There is no flexibility written into our firearms legislation. Holding a gun without a certificate? You're guilty, end of. No defence of 'in the public interest', reasonable excuse or what-have-you. Of course we have to be tough on armed crime, but this sort of thing just makes the law look stupid.

I think I'll just double-check those forms before I send them off, all the same...

Sunday, 8 November 2009

All ready on the marsh

Now where are the ducks?

Mark Gilchrist wildfowling on the Medway estuary from James Marchington on Vimeo.

Well, they turned up in the end, but not in the numbers Mark had hoped for. We finished the day with six teal in the bag.

Wildfowling, Medway estuary from James Marchington on Vimeo.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Driving in the river

Today I have been driving in a river. The occasion was the press launch of Toyota's new Land Cruiser, held at EJ Churchill Shooting Ground at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. It's a remarkable vehicle - taking quite terrifying muddy slopes in its stride.

Like a lot of modern 4x4s it's all a bit fly-by-wire, giving the impression of floating through the countryside on a magic sofa. And like all modern cars, it comes with more letters than a can of alphabet spaghetti: KDSS, AWD, MTS, MTM, HAC, DAC, A-TRC, ABS, VSC, AVS, ABD. This one is a 3-litre 4-cylinder diesel with 5-speed automatic transmission, top speed of 109mph and 0-62 in 11.7 seconds (but not in a river).

All in all, a remarkably competent and comfortable vehicle with heaps of room for guns, dogs and what-have-you - and it cruises comfortably, if a bit noisily, on the motorway too. Sadly, at £44,795 on the road, I can't see the boss replacing my current antiquated BMW with one of these!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Can we work with birders?

In case you've missed it, I've been having an interesting exchange with a keen birder, Alan Tilmouth, via his blog Dusted Off Bins and in the comments section to some of the posts on this one.

Basically, Alan believes that the 'shooting community' (if only we were that organised and cohesive!) is systematically persecuting hen harriers and other birds of prey, and that something should be done to stop us.

I have stated my position as clearly as I can, as follows:
Let me state my position clearly. I know that illegal killing of raptors does happen. Although I've never witnessed it with my own eyes, I accept that people connected with shooting are sometimes responsible. I have never seen reliable statistics on the true extent of the problem, and can only speculate on how widespread it is. I am 100% against any illegal killing of raptors. Any gamekeeper or shooter who illegally kills a raptor is not worthy of the name, and I despise him. If I personally came across a case of this happening, I would not hesitate to report it to the authorities, and I would urge any gamekeeper or shooter to do the same. It is not only despicable it drags the reputation of shooting through the dirt.
No doubt there's the odd unreconstructed old keeper who would like to see me keelhauled for that. Well, that's his opinion, and he can cancel his subscription to Sporting Shooter - I don't want him as a reader.

I thought it would be interesting to ask Alan what, in an ideal world, he (and presumably other birders) would like the 'shooting establishment' to do. I suspected there would be many points of agreement, and areas where we could find compromises acceptable to both sides.

Alan posted his 'wish list' on his blog. And to his credit, his answer wasn't 'ban shooting'. In fact several of his points are not far from what happens already, although perhaps shooting doesn't do the best possible job of  publicising its efforts in these areas.

My natural reaction is to resist yet more certification, inspection and red tape - there's enough of that in land management and farming already. I don't suppose the birders would be happy if we demanded the right to inspect their homes on a regular basis just in case they were collecting birds' eggs. But shooting estates can and do work with local raptor groups etc, and it would be great to see this develop.

Below is Alan's list of requests. "Not much to ask" he says. Actually it is rather a lot to ask, but I reckon it's a workable starting point. What do you, the reader, think? If we could get a cast iron guarantee that the RSPB would put its full support behind shooting, provided we complied with Alan's list, could we live with that? Do email me or add a comment below to let me know.
1. The 'Shooting & Game' media should be consistently delivering the message that Illegal Persecution has no place in your sport. It should be a seen as a cancer that undermines the responsible and all particpants should be encouraged to root it out. If the number of column inches devoted to this message were equal to those criticising the conservation organisations such as RSPB and Natural England then people outside shooting may begin to believe their is a willingness to resolve the problem.
2. How about an industry accreditation/stewardship scheme that had Biodiversity Management Plans at it's core and was independantly scrutinised. The rewards for achieving different levels of accreditation could be directly linked to stewardship payments providing financial reward to those managing true biodiversity and achieving the highest standards. A combination of planned annual and random visits would verify the scheme. This could be used as a selling point in the same way as star ratings work for hotels and British Standards and ISO in other industries.
3. Committment ahead of the end of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project to its findings & if diversionary feeding is demonstrated to work (again)it should be universally adopted (and incorporated into 2). The Brood Management Scheme proposed by Prof Steve Redpath should also be given due credence and tested as to viability.
4. Better promotion of the CAIP (Campaign Against Illegal Poisoning) with free advertising space in shooting magazines. Regular poison 'amnestys' on banned substances such as Carbofuran to take stocks out of circulation and put them beyond use.
5. I'd like to see a rural schools education programme to counter the underlying culture that dictates all birds of prey are bad, one that teaches the principals of predator/prey relationships to help the next generation of farmers, landowners, gamekeepers & shooters avoid the misconceptions that are so prevalent today. Perhaps an urban scheme to enlighten townies on countryside management might also be appropriate.
6. A requirement by law to notify the relevant authorities of the discovery of an active Hen Harrier nest placed upon all individuals.
7. Removal of the pressure being placed upon the Scottish government to issue licences to control Sparrowhawks & Common Buzzard by the Scottish Gamekeeper's Association and other shooting interests in Scotland.

Monday, 2 November 2009

It's Christmas!

Well, not really, but it feels like it - Mark Gilchrist is cooking up a festive treat to feature in our Christmas issue. I haven't seen the menu yet, but that was definitely some pheasants that went into the fridge.

Harriers again

Another day, another RSPB press release about hen harriers. Only this one seems confused. It tells us there's "no evidence of illegal killing or nest destruction", but it's all the fault of those pesky shooters. What is? The fact that the numbers are so low that they're "perilously close to being lost". Except they're nothing of the sort. According to the BTO, the hen harrier globally is in the category "least concern". By "lost" RSPB don't mean extinct, they mean not as many as they'd like breeding in Britain.

Although the RSPB release talks of 1 pair here and 2 there, their own website acknowledges 749 UK breeding pairs, plus another 57 on the Isle of Man. And that's breeding pairs. The RSPB's map has big blue patches showing wintering birds, some of which it says come from continental Europe, although the 'Estimated numbers' for 'UK wintering' shows a blank, presumably an oversight, or perhaps they just don't know.

Interestingly, the BTO also suggests that habitat, rather than illegal "persecution", may be the reason for fewer harriers being seen on grouse moors: "harriers feed mainly on voles and pipits, which prefer grassland, good moor management for heather will exclude both the harrier and its prey" its website says.

Going back to the RSPB release, they tell us: "The hen harrier was once found throughout the English lowlands and is not, as its current range might suggest, a bird solely of mountains and remote moorland". And, it seems, the name hen harrier came about because it used to attack... domestic hens. Not a species prevalent on managed grouse moors. So how exactly is it the grouse shooters' fault that the harriers are now found largely on, er, uplands? Or is it possible the odd chicken farmer might have had a hand in that? And perhaps our old friend DDT might just have been a tiny factor too?

I freely admit that I am no expert on harriers. But I'm not so stupid that I can't see when someone is cherry picking and spinning the data. Come on RSPB, tell us the whole truth.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

New Beretta A400 Xplor Unico revealed

For all posts on this gun, click here.

OK, the wraps are off. Nov 1 is here and I can reveal the photos I took of Beretta's new A400 Xplor Unico at the press preview event back on 8 October.

Here, in the words of Beretta product manager Paolo Buffoli, is a description of the operating system:

Beretta has developed for the A400 Xplor Unico a new functioning system made up of: a new rotation bolt system, improved feeding system, and a new Beretta gas valve. That’s B-Link! UNICO, thanks to the new Beretta functioning system, is the fastest shotgun of the world.

Specially designed for A400 Xplor, the new gas piston has an elastic scraper band that, as well as cleaning the internal part of the cylinder, is a washer to prevent the gas from leaking out of the valve (as happen in the car engines). When the gas come into the valve the pressure increases immediately, because of the washer, and consequently the piston starts its movement.

To obtain the best performance and the highest speed, racing car engines must be top efficient, without any waste of power…and Beretta has followed the same philosophy.

Is certified that A400 Xplor is, at least, 36% faster than any other functioning system in the world.

While making its washer function, the new piston elastic band cleans the internal part of the cylinder and prevents the gas exiting from the valve. As a result the gas mechanism cleaning is maintained; cleaning that of course is stricltly related with the quantity of the gas present. Thanks to this new seal system the quantity of the gas spilled from the barrel is exactly what we need for the functioning; this means that we have half of the gas inside in comparioson with the old models. B-Link, the new A400 Xplor engine, is the best on the market in terms of efficiency and cleaning.

And finally, here's Beretta's leaflet explaining the key features of the new gun:

'Britain's Killing Fields' Independent on Sunday

What a wasted opportunity! The IoS publishes its 'investigation' into wildlife crime today, with a huge front cover splash "Wildlife crime doubles in just one year." And to back it up? Just two feeble pages of churnalism, repeating vague scare stories from organisations desperate for funding.

The paper makes no attempt to look behind the statistics and discover what's really going on. Any journalist worth the name would ask, for starters, "Is there a huge increase in actual crime, or is this an increase in the reporting of something that was already happening?"

I'd like to see the statistics on 'badger persecution' broken down, and followed up. There are two very different problems going on here. On the one hand, we have organised criminal gangs arranging badger/dog fights, with large sums of money changing hands in illegal betting. And on the other hand we have the government's refusal to face up to the uncomfortable choices over Bovine TB, with the inevitable result that some exasperated farmers take the law into their own hands.

Does anyone dare look into the question of whether certain ethnic groups are responsible for certain types of wildlife crime? Certainly dogfighting is more prevalent within certain groups within the UK. Ian Briggs, chief inspector of the RSPCA's Special Operations Unit, has been quoted as saying: "Out of all the work we do 98 per cent is Asian." It's not inconceivable that there may be similar trends in badger baiting and the like. How can we begin to tackle the problem if no-one dares to even mention the race issue?

And hare coursing, big in Lincolnshire apparently. You don't say. And those people doing the hare coursing. They wouldn't be living in homes with, er, wheels on would they?

Just a few years ago there was a problem with immigrant workers from other European states catching fish, swans, ducks and the like for the pot - I remember the press stories at the time saying that these people needed to understand that they couldn't carry on like that now they'd come to Britain. So can we assume that they've all now received an education and don't go poaching any more?

The whole issue of wildlife crime is huge and complex. I had hoped the IoS 'investigation' would contribute to unravelling it. Instead, we have 2 pages written by a journalist who didn't lift his bum off his office chair, never mind get mud on his boots. Disappointing.