Monday 28 December 2009

Cold weather: shooting ban in Scotland

Christmas Day, originally uploaded by nz_willowherb.

With continuing harsh weather, BASC is calling for all shooters in Scotland to exercise 'extra voluntary restraint' in their shooting of ducks, geese and waders including woodcock, snipe and reared mallard.

If the weather conditions persist until the New Year in Scotland then it is possible that a decision will be taken by the Government to impose a statutory suspension of waterfowl shooting which would last for up to 14 days.

All of which means that my planned wildfowling trip to NE Scotland in the new year is looking less and less likely to happen. Which will be bad news for the local pigeons and foxes.

UPDATE, Thurs 31 Dec: 

Today (31 Dec) was day 11 in the countdown to a severe weather suspension of the shooting of ducks, geese and waders in Scotland. The hard weather is expected to persist and if it does the Minister will sign the Order on Saturday 2 Jan, coming into effect on Monday the 4 Jan at 09.00.
The ban will affect the shooting of all ducks (including reared ducks), geese and waders (including snipe and woodcock) and will be signed for 14 days. However, there will be a review after 7 days and if mild weather has arrived it could then be lifted.

UPDATE, Sun 3 Jan: 
Today the environment minister Roseanna Cunningham signed the order, which brings a suspension into force on Tuesday 5 Januar. The suspension last up to two weeks, but is reviewed after seven days if conditions have improved.
This is the first cold weather suspension since January 1997, when the order covered the whole of Great Britain. The last time such a ban was enforced in Scotland alone was in 1993.

More details on the BASC website here »

Saturday 19 December 2009

Cute puppy photos



I've been making the most of the sunshine, and a couple of spare hours, to shoot some of the obligatory cute puppy photos. Bracken is 12 weeks now, and if I don't get on with it she'll be a big hulking brute and I'll have missed the chance! More photos in my collection on Flickr here...

Monday 14 December 2009

Saturday 12 December 2009

I've been psychoanalysed by an anti

I woudn't normally suggest you go and read anything from the League Against Cruel Sports. But the latest confused ramblings from their chief fruitloop, Douglas Batchelor, are worth a look, if only for a glimpse into the sort of poisoned mind that can look at a day's shooting and see perversion and cruelty.

As an example of cod psychology, it's a classic. To summarise several hundred words, he says: i) I don't understand what people see in hunting and shooting, ii) Therefore they must be very sick, and so iii) They should be banned.

Along the way he denies the antis' favourite criticism that shooters and hunters are posh (has he told Animal Aid? They're still plugging that one). He tries to imply that we're perverts with an unhealthy interest in 'dominance' (dread to think how his mind arrived at that one). And he suggests that encouraging young people to take up our sport will turn them into mass murderers.

It's so obviously bonkers and irrelevant that I'm amazed anyone takes him seriously. Unfortunately for the BBC, they're supposed to show 'balance', which occasionally means finding someone to put the antis' case - and they're not exactly spoilt for choice.

Friday 11 December 2009

Shooting ourselves in the foot

Two phone calls this afternoon have highlighted the fact that some shooters don't do themselves - or the rest of us - any favours.

The first was from a council employee in Leeds, who had shot from a nearby pheasant shoot rain down around him as he worked. He was the most reasonable bloke imaginable, but understandably concerned and wanted to know the legal position. I suggested the best bet was a quiet word with the shoot captain, but apparently local residents have complained before and got nowhere.

The second was from an RSPB worker in Northern Ireland. A while back I emailed him asking about the latest report of a poisoned red kite. Was he sure shooters were involved, I asked. After all, there are other people who might have cause to put down poison. But no, it seems he generally finds shooters and gamekeepers very helpful - but in this case the keeper is an oldfashioned sort who sees buzzards and kites as his enemies.

It only takes a few people like this to undo years of good work by the rest of us. The frustrating thing is, it's not our job to police them, we don't have the powers to do so - and yet we're the ones whose names get dragged through the dirt.

Cornish clotted cream, Melton Mowbray pies...

How about Highland venison, Yorkshire grouse or Norfolk pheasant? The EU has a scheme to protect traditional and regional food specialities. The latest regional food to gain special protection in this way is Cornish sardines (also known as pilchards). They won their special status because of the traditional way they are caught, and Cornwall's historic link to sardine fishing.

The UK, with 40 products recognised by Brussels, lags a long way behind France and Italy, with around 300.

Are we missing a trick here? Are there regional game specialities that could win special status, recognising the traditional way they are harvested and prepared?

I'm all legal

Full marks to Surrey Police, who have processed my RFD, Firearms and Shotgun Certificate renewal with all the efficiency and courtesy one could wish - despite a photograph that makes me look like the sort of person who shouldn't be allowed within a mile of a gun! The certificates all arrived in the post yesterday, so there's no awkward gap between one certificate and the next. Silly really, but it's surprising how much worry the whole process causes, and it really helps when the police firearms dept handle it well.

And yes, I did remember to sign them both, in ink, on receipt. From my gunshop days, I recall it's surprising how many people don't!

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Tug of war

This is not the recommended way of training a young gundog, but it's good to see the two of them playing together!

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Young shot on the telly

The BBC's Inside Out South East programme has produced an excellent piece on young people and shotguns, featuring the West Kent Shooting School, and presented by a young shooter, 12-year-old Victoria. It's available on the BBC iPlayer until Monday 14 Dec - grab a look while you can.

UPDATE: There's a 'debate' piece on the BBC  Kent website about this, with BASC's Jenni Thompson making the case for youngsters being encouraged to learn shooting responsibly, and the League Against Cruel Sports' Douglas Batchelor frothing at the mouth (and showing a complete lack of knowledge of the law on young people and guns - or is he deliberately trying to frighten people?).

Thursday 3 December 2009

Two foxes snapped by the ProStalk

For the first time, the ProStalk camera has captured two foxes at once.

Also a magpie that visited the site during daylight. There are one or two 'blank' photos, day and night, which I guess are the result of something whizzing past the sensor and being out of shot by the time the shutter opens. It could easily happen with a small bird, or even a bat, flying close to the camera.

One thing I've learned from using the ProStalk is how unpredictable the foxes are. Some foxshooters have told me about foxes so predictable "you could set your watch by them". Not mine! Looking through the 'event log' on the machine, I've had foxes visit on different days at 17.00, 18.11, 20.40, 22.20, 01.35, 04.00, 05.40 and 06.15. There's really no pattern in that - so if I had to wait up for them it could be a long cold night, with no guarantee they'd show up at all.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

It's a hard life

Look who's sitting outside the office window this morning

I opened the window quietly, poked the camera through, and snapped a few photos before the woodie flew off.

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.

Friday 30 October 2009

So where's the 'illegal persecution' of harriers?

The Countryside Alliance says that Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project, together with the RSPB, will confirm illegal persecution played no part in the breeding failure of hen harriers, and the RSPB’s Birdcrime report for 2008 also showed that last year there were again no confirmed incidents of persecution against the species.

Countryside Alliance Moorlands Policy Officer Adrian Blackmore said: “Although there were just six successful hen harrier nests in England in 2009, that number could have been higher. The RSPB has blamed natural predation for the death of two hen harrier chicks in Bowland in August, which highlights the importance of carrying out predator control, and for the third year running, the RSPB’s upland reserve at Geltsdale failed to have a successful breeding pair after a female deserted her nest.

“The populations of all but one of 15 species of British birds of prey are increasing, in some cases to the maximum that the habitat can support. There are 806 breeding pairs in the United Kingdom, a 41% increase between 1998 and 2004. They are a common sight in the spring and autumn as they migrate through the country."

The Alliance points out that the hen harrier is not a rare bird across Europe. Near the top of its food chain and with 167,000 nesting females, it is not threatened. The Hen harrier is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) – the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species - as of ‘least concern’. They say that hen harriers are regularly seen migrating over grouse moors along the Pennine Chain but they do not often settle to breed in England (10 pairs in 2008, and 12 attempts in 2009 of which 6 were successful). The latest estimate is that there are 806 pairs breeding in the UK, of which 57 are on the Isle of Man.

All of which leaves me wondering, why all the shouting about "illegal persecution", unless it's good for drumming up membership and donations?

Policing foxhunting

If ever there was proof that the Hunting Act is an ass, it's the ludicrous ACPO Investigators Manual. LACS have "welcomed" the impenetrable 67-page document, which for some reason doesn't appear on ACPO's own website but is available from the LACS here.

If I was LACS I wouldn't welcome it, I'd be hopping mad. Reading between the lines, the document seems to be telling police they have more important things to do, but they'd better feign interest in order to:
  • positively promote our impartiality
  • provide reassurance that we will police without prejudice
  • provide reassurance that we support and respect the right to both legitimate protest and to hunt lawfully
Far from untangling the legal minefield, the document adds layer upon layer of complication which should put off any police officer thinking of getting involved.

My favourite bit is the 'Risk Assessment' at the end of the document: "Officers to be made aware that horses may bite and kick...". Dealing with animal carcasses: "Gloves to be worn. Clothing to be treated as contaminated waste. Officers wash hands change clothing as soon as practicable."

I note that the antis' new tactics involve asking people in the street whether foxhunting should remain banned, and then trying to frighten politicians with the results. I think I shall have a poll to ask Joe Public: "What will influence the way you cast your vote at the next election?" If keeping the Hunting Act makes a tenth of one percent, I'll eat my hat.

Is your MP an anti, or just a mug?

Is your MP on this list? If so, it looks like they've been had by the antis' latest stunt, where David Taylor MP tabled an 'early day motion' - clearly spoonfed to him by Animal Aid and their chums - calling for the banning of game shooting. I first reported on this nonsense here, but some 67 MPs have signed up to it and now the LACS is crowing about it here. Just in case you're in any doubt about their intentions, they clearly state "We are working hard to demonstrate the cruelty inherent in the shooting industry and will not stop until this cruel sport is outlawed completely".

So, if shooting matters to you, and your MP is on the list below, you might want to email him/her and point out that this is no way to win your support at the forthcoming general election.

Abbott, Diane
Anderson, Janet
Austin, John
Bayley, Hugh
Berry, Roger
Breed, Colin
Burgon, Colin
Burt, Lorely
Campbell, Ronnie
Caton, Martin
Clapham, Michael
Cohen, Harry
Cook, Frank
Corbyn, Jeremy
Crausby, David
Davies, Dai
Dismore, Andrew
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Featherstone, Lynne
Flynn, Paul
Francis, Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Godsiff, Roger
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Fabian
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Tom
Hood, Jim
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hoyle, Lindsay
Iddon, Brian
Kaufman, Gerald
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
MacNeil, Angus
McDonnell, John
Meale, Alan
Miller, Andrew
Morgan, Julie
Mullin, Chris
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, John
Riordan, Linda
Robinson, Geoffrey
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Sheridan, Jim
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela C (Sheffield Hillsborough)
Taylor, David
Touhig, Don
Truswell, Paul
Vis, Rudi
Walley, Joan
Wareing, Robert N
Widdecombe, Ann
Williams, Betty
Wood, Mike

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Ethical hunting

Organisations from the RSPB to the LACS are good at creating catchy slogans to support their campaigns. Shooters, on the other hand, are rather rubbish at it. We're guilty of sitting in the corner sulking 'it's not fair' and 'they don't understand us'. Well, it's not and they don't, but moping won't solve anything. Actually, it just makes it look like we might have something to hide.

So I propose a new campaign, working title "Ethical Hunters". We'll work up a statement of what an 'Ethical Hunter' is and what he/she stands for. Shooters can sign the pledge, wear the T-shirt, etc. Nothing compulsory, no testing or certification - it's just a statement of what we believe in. It'll stress the benefits of healthy outdoor activity, oneness with nature, upholding cultural traditions and values, respect for the quarry and for wildlife generally, responsible wildlife management, sustainable harvesting of natural resources.

And in the next phase, we'll ask other organisations to show their support. Once they've signed up, they can display the official logo "We support Ethical Hunting". We'll start with the obvious shooting organisations, manufacturers etc. And then we'll move on: RSPB perhaps, government bodies, local councils. Who knows, some of the anti organisations would find it hard to argue against signing up.

Right, that's the plan. And it's not a million miles from some of the programmes already running in the USA, where they tend to be well ahead of us on PR (eg Hunt Fair Chase). Now you can all bombard me with the pitfalls that I've overlooked!

UPDATE: It's up and running - see

Monday 26 October 2009

All I want for Christmas...

OK readers, I need your help. We're compiling our Christmas wish-list for the magazine. In the category of 'shooting related toys' what would you most desire?

Here are a few that I'd be happy to find in my stocking on Christmas Day, but what would you want?

Ideas and suggestions please - via the comments or email me direct at: editor[at]

Waterbomb Catapult
Nerf Havoc Fire Automatic Blaster

Fly Gun Bug Killer

Double Shot Dart Blaster

Rubber Band Gatling Gun

Sunday 25 October 2009

Battling pheasants

Driving to see my parents this afternoon, I stopped to let these two run across the lane in front of me. They never noticed the car - just carried on with their squabble until the winner sent his rival packing.

Walking round the place later, I was amazed by the number of berries on the holly trees. Some say it's a sign that a harsh winter is coming. Personally I think it's probably more to do with the summer we've had than the winter we're going to have.

Here's something else I noticed - several pigeon kills, probably by a sparrowhawk. This was the only one where the carcass remained, but I expect foxes etc took away the others. I do hope someone has explained the terms of the general licence to that sparrowhawk, and it's being careful only to kill pigeons that are damaging crops!

Saturday 24 October 2009

New ferret run

Yes, I know it's really a chicken coop, but it also happens to be ideal for the ferrets, and I got this on eBay cheaper than I could buy the timber and wire to make my own at B&Q.

I went to B&Q anyway, to get the paving slabs for the floor. One of the main problems with the old run was that the ferrets kept digging their way out, and then catching them up again was quite a chore. Whatever else happens, they won't be digging out of this one!

The other trouble with the old set-up was that the hutch was simply falling to bits. The timber was rotting away, and it was only a matter of time before the floor fell in, or the roof blew off.

So now the 4 jills are settled in their new home, busily exploring all the corners and climbing the wire mesh all the way to the roof, just for a look, before sliding back down again.

I've added upgraded bolts and latches, as the originals were designed to keep chickens in, and weren't up to holding back ferrets.

After years of keeping ferrets, nothing surprises me when it comes to their ability to escape or get into mischief in the most unlikely ways. But so far, so good!

Friday 23 October 2009

Gyrocopter hunt death update

This case does seem to be taking an extraordinarily long time. From the Birmingham Post:

Warwickshire man pleads not guilty in gyrocopter hunt death

Oct 5 2009

A 54-year-old north Warwickshire man pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of a hunt supporter who was killed by the rotor blades of a gyrocopter.

Bryan Griffiths, who spoke only to enter his plea at Birmingham Crown Court, will now stand trial next year accused of killing Trevor Morse.

The defendant, of Wiltshire Close, Bedworth, is alleged to have killed Mr Morse unlawfully at Long Marston airfield, near Stratford-upon-Avon, on March 9.

Mr Morse, a committee member with the Warwickshire Hunt, was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident after suffering severe head injuries.

Griffiths is expected to return to court for trial on March 1 next year at a venue to be fixed.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

The RSPB should go and...

Yes, I can guess how some readers would complete that headline. 'Boil their heids' would be one of the more polite answers.

But it's a serious question. I was talking to the RSPB's conservation director Mark Avery - he's the one who appears at the CLA Game Fair each year, taking the inevitable flak from shooters and keepers. During the conversation, he asked me "What exactly do you want the RSPB to do?"

I was stumped, and promised to get back to him on that one. Which is why I'm asking readers of this blog to help me out.

So what do we want the RSPB to do? Realistically.

They're not going to go away. They will continue to direct their appeals at well intentioned but ill informed members of the public. And let's face it, they're not all bad by a long way. Much of their work is well directed and hugely beneficial to wildlife and the countryside.

My initial 'wish list' contains more negatives than positives: Stop using shooters and keepers as bogeymen in your fundraising and publicity; stop focusing on 'iconic' birds of prey as if nothing else matters; etc.

On its own reserves, the RSPB can run things how it likes. But in the 'real' world outside that bubble, birds must take second place to food production, commerce, transport, and the rest. The British Isles could be filled with hen harriers and all sorts of wonderful wildlife if we just cleared off all the humans, bulldozed the houses, and turned the whole place into a huge nature reserve.

Of course that won't happen, but there's much more we can do to reduce our impact on the natural world, and live alongside wildlife. And paradoxically, shooters do much better in this area than 99% of the population. I suppose what I really want is for the RSPB to acknowledge that, and stop portraying us as the enemy. Longer term, I'd like them to embrace 'harvesting nature's bounty' as an intrinsic part of conservation.

So, starting with that as a strategic objective, what do I tell Mr Avery?

Can individual shoots work more closely with RSPB officers, for the benefit of wildlife generally? (And would keepers trust them enough to allow them on the place?)

Perhaps we'd like a 'good keeper scheme' where the RSPB acknowledges the work done by individuals to improve the wildlife generally on their shoot. Heaven forbid, though, that they should see this as some sort of 'licensing' system by the back door, where they 'inspect' shoots to see that they conform to some standard.

Or do we just want them to clear off and mind their own business? Trouble with that one is, if it's got wings and a beak, they reckon it is their business.

Over to you... comments and ideas please.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

We need more coppers like this!

Received from a reader who notes: "I wish to remain anonymous - or I'll be sacked!":

Dear Editor,

I’m at my wits end! So I apologise in advance for this ‘rant’.

I have become increasingly frustrated by repeated , embarrassing stories of over reaction by my fellow colleagues within the police ‘service’ (or Force as it used to be called!), when dealing with lawful and law abiding firearms users. I hasten to add though this is not entirely their fault, rather than stemming from what is now the ‘scared sh*tless’ mentality of the management.

I am both a policeman (20+ years service) and a shooter. I am passionate about the job and the countryside. I live right in the ‘sticks’ and undertake various shooting pursuits; pigeon, driven, rough shooting and lamping. I look forward to working with my cocker picking up this season and on the beating line with him on my friend’s local shoot.

Although I’m an awful shot at times with the 12 bore, I’m still learning and enjoy all aspects of shooting and feel privileged to be able to partake in this way of life. The shooting and field sport community are a very welcoming bunch far from being law breakers!

I genuinely fear for the career I joined at 19 years of age, I almost don’t recognise it. The time has come I believe for a complete ‘Back to Basics’ overhaul to policing and a return to good old fashion ‘coppering’.

To start with I would like to see all political and management buzzwords (or boll*cks as I call it) removed from all police vocabulary immediately. Phrases such as ‘Anti Social Behaviour’, ’Engage with...’, ‘Dynamic Risk...’should be replaced by my favoured tried and tested old fashion terms, such as ‘Oi pack it in or else!’, ‘Speak to/have a word with (to tell them to pack it in all else)!’ and ‘What? Lets ‘ave ‘em!’ It’s simple, the bobby should be seen, villains should be nicked and the public should be served, no more complicated than that.

The public are tired of fancy meetings in damp village halls where the poor local officer has to prepare days in advance to defend his/herself on their inadequacies in policing a patch the size of Ethiopia. From a personal perspective ‘the travelling community’ are getting away with murder, they run amuck, thieving, poaching, taking people’s dogs and garden equipment daily! They are practically unpoliced. I have heard accounts where even young police officers are too scared to enter their sites due to institutional ‘namby pambyism!’ I want to scream at them,”Hang on, look behind you, the Army are rather tied up in Afghanistan, there’s no one else, the public pay you to do that, now get your stick out and get in there for God sake!”

I don’t feel I’m generalising too much common sense has for the time being disappeared from our Police Service. I sincerely hope for a return to the village bobby only having a ‘village’ to police not half a county, where Risk Assessing is put more into perspective with a touch of common sense added so incidents of pigeon cullers being nicked at gunpoint don’t occur, and when you leave your firearms in a locked secured vehicle and they are stolen, you are treated like a victim of theft and not the suspect of a murder!

If we as a police service alienate any more of our community we will never salvage anything of the relationship we have had with the public in times gone by.

Somebody, please bring back some sense!!

Thursday 15 October 2009

How to hunt rabbits

Hubert Hubert writes an excellent blog about his exploits here. His post 'How to Hunt Rabbits...' is a really valuable guide - a distillation of everything he's found out in his first year of learning to hunt. If you're taking up airgun hunting, read it and save yourself a year of discovering all this the hard way!

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Just because you're paranoid...

Using email, the web, mobile phones and the like, you sometimes wonder just how much the military/security services can eavesdrop. And I suspect that the answer is, they can see and hear exactly what they damn well please. But it's rare to get confirmation.

Today, however, there's something spooky in my site stats. A visitor from the domain (The US Navy Information Center) looked at my write-up on the new Beretta semi-auto. Nothing unusual there. But the 'out click' was on an image called, which links to an editing screen so you can edit a 'widget' on the blog layout.

You don't even see that image, let alone get to go to that edit screen, unless you're logged in as me. The truth is out there...

Is this a new police policy?

In the previous post, I referred to a farmer whose guns were confiscated by police, not after something he'd done but after something happened to him. It all sounds a bit like the Precrime department in Minority Report. You're under a lot of stress, dear, let's put the nasty scissors away shall we.

Now in a news story, I read that ACPO and the British Medical Association are colluding over a system that would allow your doctor to dob you in, if you went to him feeling a bit down. And then what would they do? The only possible reason is so they can come round and take your guns away - for your own good, and for the safety of those around you.

On the one hand, it sounds like a sensible precaution, but it all depends on how it's applied. And why focus on guns? If the authorities deem you a risk, there are many ways of harming yourself and others. Surely they should be emptying the kitchen knife drawer, confiscating garden tools, belts, shoelaces, and as for the car...

If this is a new police policy, I think we should be told about it. And it should be properly debated before being sneaked in through the back door. If it's not an official policy, then we should stand up to it, rather then let it be enforced by default.

And here's a thought. I wonder if by worrying about all this I'm appearing a bit paranoid. Hang on, there's a knock at the door. Back soon...

Monday 12 October 2009

Welsh big cat on the prowl again

My informant from Wales has called to say that his local big cat is active again - three sheep killed last week, and another this morning. (Previous post on this subject here)

Locals have heard 'screaming' at night, and the sheep have all been killed in a distinctive manner, quite unlike the work of rogue dogs etc. Some of the sheep have been so thoroughly eaten that only a fleece and stomach contents remain in the morning - it takes some creature to do that in a night!

The farmer whose sheep were taken made the mistake of telling the police about it. So what did they do? They confiscated his guns!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

UPDATE 14/10/09: I asked one of our experts to comment on the details of this case, as reported to me. Here's what he said:

Big cats tend to drag their prey up into a tree, whenever possible; clearly this isn't happening here. They also favour woodland, however sparse, for their lair; is there somewhere in the vicinity that could provide such cover? If so, a series of 'sandpits' dug where the animal would have to exit might provide a clue.

One big cat (however big) couldn't possibly eat a whole sheep on three consecutive days (Thu, Fri, Sat) and why would it kill again on Sunday, but not eat the carcass? Maybe 'it' was disturbed, but the clue is in my putting 'it' into inverted commas ie is 'it' in fact 'them'? A mother with kittens perhaps. The fact that the ears have been chewed could indicate kittens hanging onto the ears trying to emulate their mother during the attack, or chewing on them prior to being given permission to feed off the main carcass. This is becoming a might fanciful, though.

Another thing about eating raw flesh is that it takes 48 hours to go through the system as opposed to 24 hours with cooked flesh; ask the kennel huntsman of any pack of hounds. So eating raw flesh on consecutive days doesn't make sense.

Why did it leave the stomach contents? Most carnivores value greatly the partially digested herbage found in their victims' stomachs. It helps to provide necessary roughage without the need to graze actual blades of grass for which their teeth are poorly suited.

Blood in the ears and frothy blood in the mouth might suggest death by strangulation (or lung damage) a vet would be able to tell you better than I, so almost anything could be responsible for that, even a mink might manage it.

Pugmarks are particularly difficult to find unless sand or mud has been crossed. Even then, it takes an experienced eye to identify them positively. If there are any, it might be helpful to note that cats can withdraw their claws when walking (and extend them when attacking) so the lack of claw marks could be an indicator, but by no means foolproof.

I once tracked a cattle-eating leopard in Namibia for four hours along a dried up river bed and never once saw any sign of its claws in the soft sand. On another occasion on the Botswana/South Africa border I followed the pugmarks of a leopard along the muddy bank of the Limpopo for an hour and a half; this leopard's claws were evident all along the way. For reasons too long to go into here, I didn't shoot either of those cats, but I watched them often through my binoculars, so I do know what animal made those pugmarks.