I met a chap in the woods today. He was a TV producer's stereotype of a gamekeeper, or a poacher, or a bit of both. He wore tattered green trousers, a threadbare woolen jumper, a worn-out old wax coat and boots with holes. I swear he had baler twine for a belt. Worzel Gummidge hair stuck out from under a greasy tweed hat, and the glowing stub of a roll-up was stuck to his bottom lip. As he talked, I found myself staring at the cigarette, wondering how it didn't fall off, or burn him. At his feet were two terriers of indeterminate breed. A bit of Jack Russell in one, a bit of Border in the other.
The average man in the street would dismiss him as an idiot. I don't suppose he reads much, if at all. But he missed nothing that went on around him - the wood itself was his newspaper, and he knew the meaning of every track and sign, every bird call. His eyes were never still, catching every movement in the sky.
He was off to kill a fox. Not for any thrill of the chase, or because he enjoys the kill. Simply, it's a fox, this is nesting time; the fox is in the wrong place at the wrong time and it needs to go. It's a job that needs doing, like fixing a fence or chopping wood. I've no doubt he'll get the job done, and done efficiently. Legally? I doubt he knows the meaning of the word.
I stood and watched as he strode off, puffing at that impossible stub, the terriers close at heel. He was as much a part of the countryside as the fox he was after.
It struck me that you can pass all the laws you like, educate any number of would-be gamekeepers about best practice and the approved methods for controlling this and doing that. But there will still be countless characters like this chap throughout the countryside. For them, there is only the natural law of A eats B eats C. They don't appear on Defra's radar; they're the nearest thing to a fox or a peregrine in human form (and probably equally popular with the local keepers!)
I'm not saying it's right or wrong that such people exist; they just do. No doubt organisations like Defra and the RSPB would like them controlled, like vermin. Or at the very least rounded up and re-educated. But of course you'd never find them, if they didn't want to be found. You might as well try to teach foxes to kill voles according to best practice.
I found the encounter uplifting, in a way I can't fully explain - like watching a bird of prey or a fox hunting.