Monday 27 December 2010

A great day's ferreting

It wasn't the biggest bag ever - just four rabbits in fact. But it was a great day out, and a momentous one for my elder daughter Emma's new ferret, Boo. That's him above, with the punk hairdo after a bit of a tussle underground. And below, Emma with Boo and one of my jills - Emma is sporting her furry headband thingy she got for Christmas, and looking a bit more stylish than my usual ferreting companions.

It was Boo's first introduction to working, and he took to it very well - bolting three rabbits into the purse nets, and coming back up straight away. On the last hole (why do we always have to do that 'one last hole'?) he killed one underground. As it turned out, someone long ago had dumped a load of old chicken wire, concrete slabs and rolls of barbed wire into that very spot, and covered it over with earth. That made digging somewhat difficult.

Fortunately we had Emma's boyfriend Steve with us. That's him in the photo above. He did a splendid job of pulling up wire and slabs, then digging down to find the spot indicated by the Ferret Finder (being the oldest member of the party, these days I get to operate the Ferret Finder, and delegate the manual labour). And sure enough there was Boo, watching over rabbit number 4.

After that we decided it was time for a cup of tea and turkey sandwiches, took a few photos and called it a day - one we'll all remember for a long time!

Saturday 25 December 2010

Thursday 23 December 2010

Tribute to Michael Cartledge, of the Beretta Gallery London

Readers may have heard the sad news that Michael Cartledge, from the Beretta Gallery in London, was killed last week on his way home after the Beretta Christmas party.

George Juer, Michael's close friend and flatmate, has kindly written the following tribute to Michael, and given permission for me to reproduce it here.
Michael “Spike” Cartledge

2nd April 1978 – 17th December 2010 

A Tribute by his friend George Juer

The death of my dear friend, Michael “Spike” Cartledge will come as great blow to all who knew him and a tragedy to those of us who loved him. One of the brightest stars of the London Gun Trade, Michael was killed not long after returning from hunting dangerous game in Africa. He was run over in the Mall after attending a joyous Christmas party with his colleagues from the Beretta Gallery in London where he worked.

Michael, 32, was educated at UCL (studying languages). He began his working career in the City, followed by trading futures in Paris. He made the decision that this was not the way forward, and that guns were his real interest. He returned to the UK where he secured a job in the Arms and Armour department of Bonhams. Shortly afterwards, he heard that I was leaving J. Roberts and Son Gunmakers, and he applied for my old post as Paul Roberts' assistant. He spent two happy years there honing his skills and knowledge. There was not a shooting or hunting book or journal that he had not read and committed to memory, and many consulted him for his expertise. It was also at Roberts that Michael met Catrina Kennerley, with whom he formed a very special and lasting relationship.

In 2005, when John Ormiston was asked to oversee the opening of London’s Beretta Gallery, he asked Michael to help him in the running of the Gun Room. And, when John retired, Michael continued working in the Gallery, reporting to Tim King, the manager, and working closely with him to ensure that Beretta’s flagship London store maintained its pole position.

We are told to celebrate the life of the departed, but, writing this, I find it difficult to be in celebratory mood (though Michael would no doubt chastise me for it and suggest we go out for a drink). Grateful is the best word to describe how I feel. I was Michael’s flatmate for the last 18 months of his life and a friend for far longer. I am grateful for his friendship, his loyalty, his knowledge, his inimitable character, and the maturity beyond his years. He had a fundamental kindness. He shall be missed; missed as a friend, missed as a font of ballistic knowledge, and missed as the most English of English gentleman.

Richard, another of Michael’s close friends, has put it more succinctly than anyone else: 

“The world is an emptier place now. We will miss you, Spike, but whenever we are out with gun, rod or glass in hand, you will be with us and in our hearts.

Rest easy, Sir.”

Tuesday 21 December 2010

MPs debate firearms control

Just hours after the Home Affairs Committee published its report on Firearms Control, the subject was debated by MPs in the House of Commons.

The debate was available live on the web and can still be viewed in the box at the foot of this post if you have the necessary add-on installed (I don't so I can't see it!). Or read the full text here (scroll down towards the foot of the page, or search for 'Column 1234').

Coming so quickly after the report's publication, the debate didn't amount to much - and many MPs were absent, due to commitments back in their constituencies and, no doubt, the difficulties of travelling.

Therese Coffey (Con, Suffolk Coastal) read a prepared speech which made many positive points about shooters and shooting, and emphasised the need to "tackle criminals, not the innocent".

Keith Vaz (Lab, Leicester East), chairman of the committee, ran through the report - admitting that his only previous experience of firearms had been using a water pistol "many years ago". Considering his reputation of being firmly anti-gun, he appeared to have learned a lot in recent weeks, and had clearly been impressed by the responsible attitude of shooters.

He highlighted the muddled state of Britain's gun laws, and suggested they should be revisited, not to make them "tougher", but "even better" - ensuring they are effective but reducing the administrative burden on police and legitimate sportsmen and women.

Chris Williamson (Lab, Derby North) made a muddled speech in which he appeared to confuse legal and illegal firearms use, referring to "gun culture" as though it was the same thing as sporting shooting.

Home Office Minister James Brokenshire (Con, Old Bexley & Sidcup) said the government would "consider" revising the law to make it less complex; in the meantime they would consider the need for revised Home Office guidance to make existing law simpler to administer.

Other issues discussed included pistol shooters training in Britain for the Olympics, and concerns over young people being granted certificates. Again, the debate was calm and rational, and acknowledged that legitimate shooters are safe and responsible.

All in all, I felt we could hardly have expected better from this debate - and it raises the possibility of rewriting our confusing and bureaucratic gun laws to make them simpler and easier to follow, freeing up the police to concentrate on the real problem of illegal guns used by gangs and organised criminals.

Monday 20 December 2010

Home Affairs Committee report on firearms control

Well the report is out - and it might have been a lot worse. And it seems Parliament will be debating the subject of Firearms Control this afternoon! I wonder how many MPs will even have time to read the report first, never mind consider its implications or discuss them with their constituents.

Under the heading "Gun laws a mess, says Home Affairs Committee" the report "recognises that thousands of people use firearms responsibly for recreation and in their work". and says it "has no intention of restricting such activity".

The committee does say, however, that our complicated firearms laws "place an onerous burden" on the police and on members of the public who wish to abide by the law, because it is “so complex and confused”.

The committee urges the Government to "codify and simplify the law" - recommending a single licensing system to cover all firearms which require a licence "(which would also add greater safeguards)".

And it identifies age restrictions on firearms use as "a particular area of uncertainty".

BASC has welcomed many of the committee's recommendations. Their pre-released statement, embargoed for 0001h today, reads:
BASC welcomes many of Home Affairs Committee recommendations on firearms control

The UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has welcomed many of the recommendations on the UK’s firearms laws made today by the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Bill Harriman, BASC director of firearms said: “The committee’s report contains several recommendations which we think will help to secure the dual purposes of the UK’s firearms laws: to protect public safety and to allow the continued lawful use of firearms. BASC thanks the more than 900 people and organisations from the shooting world who submitted evidence to the enquiry. The volume of responses indicates the seriousness with which the shooting community views these deliberations.”

“In particular BASC welcomes the rejection of tagging every firearms certificate holder’s medical records, the dismissal of proposals to require guns and ammunition to be kept outside the home and the rejection of a reduction in the license term from five years to two. BASC welcomes the proposal to update police guidance on the licensing system and to smooth out the peaks and troughs in the flow of grant and renewal applications. BASC also welcomes the rejection of licensing for low-powered airguns and the emphasis on enforcement of existing law to deal with any problems.”

“However, this is not the end of the road in terms of the political battle to secure effective law which serves both public safety and firearms users. The report highlights several areas for future debate. BASC does not agree with recommendations to impose minimum age limits on certificate applicants, in the knowledge that the current laws and police powers are robust and allow people to be introduced to the sport with increasing degrees of responsibility until they can shoot unsupervised.”

“BASC firmly rejects the recommendation to apply the current complicated section one firearms licensing system onto shotguns and to increase licence fees to cover costs without firm and reliable evidence of what those costs actually are. BASC will continue to work with the Government and the police on the issues raised by the report."
The Countryside Alliance are less enthusiastic. Their release, which reached me at 09.26 this morning, reads:
Home Affairs Committee misses the target

The Home Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into Firearms Control has proposed a series of recommendations which would penalise the law-abiding shooting community and do little to protect public safety. Proposals will affect hundreds of thousands of people.

Following the terrible murder and maiming carried out in Cumbria by Derrick Bird earlier in the year, the Inquiry was set up to look at the firearms licensing system. The Countryside Alliance submitted written and oral evidence to the Committee’s Inquiry.

Robert Gray, Countryside Alliance campaigns director, said: “The Home Affairs Committee report presents a missed opportunity. The vast majority of gun crime is carried out using illegally-held weapons yet only a tiny minority of the report explains how the government might address the problem. The shootings in Cumbria were the main reason for the Firearms Inquiry but the police report into the incident reveals that none of the Committee’s main proposals would have stopped Derrick Bird.

“Proposed restrictions on shotgun owners and young shooters, and the broad-brush involvement of GPs, domestic partners and increased licence fees would be hugely disproportionate. The Countryside Alliance welcomes the proposal to simplify the existing gun laws but simplification must not mean tighter restrictions. We will strongly resist any recommendations brought forward that penalise law-abiding shooters without improving public safety and preventing criminals from breaking the law.”
Elsewhere, Nigel Allen blogs that the signs are good for airgunners.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The life of the rabbit, 1945 style

The Life of the Rabbit (1945) from British Council Film Archive on Vimeo.

An old black-and-white 'public information' style film - no PC waffle, just good honest facts presented in straightforward style. Can you imagine this film being made today?

Saturday 4 December 2010

10 ferrets stolen - reward offered

Russell Summers, who I blogged about recently, called to tell me he's had a break-in at home, and 10 of his ferrets have been stolen. He's devastated - the stolen ferrets represent 10 years of careful breeding to produce his own line of great workers, so it's a real setback for him.

Russell lives in the Cranbrook area in Kent, and is offering a cash reward for any information that leads to the recovery of his stolen ferrets. If you have any information that might help him, drop me a line at, or call me on 07836 350652 and I'll pass the information on.

Since posting last time, I've saved the audio file of my interview with Russell - listen to it by clicking the 'play' button below.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

New foxshooting DVD out now

It's finished! I've been working with FieldsportsChannel and Robert Bucknell to produce the definitive foxing DVD. It's taken most of this year, and I wouldn't claim it's perfect - but our new DVD makes great viewing and it's packed with tips for successful foxshooting.

As regular readers will know, Robert Bucknell is Britain's leading expert on foxes and foxshooting. His book Foxing with Lamp & Rifle is widely regarded as 'the foxshooter's bible', and he writes a monthly column on the subject in Sporting Shooter magazine.

In the video, Robert and I travel to mid-Wales for advice on rifles and calibres from top rifleshooting instructor Andrew Venables, and I try out different shotgun loads on a steel silhouette fox target. I also get a practical lesson in zeroing from Andrew, and learn some of the elements of accurate rifleshooting.

Robert and other experts describe their favourite kit and methods - rifles and scopes, lamps and calls. And we go out foxing with experts such as Mike Powell and Roy Lupton, by day and by night.

For a bargain £19.95 inc. p&p, it's a real foxshooting masterclass. Everyone with an interest in foxing, from the novice to the most experienced foxshooter, will find this DVD fascinating and informative viewing. And of course, it's the perfect Christmas gift for anyone with an interest in foxshooting.

Order your copy online at the Sporting Shooter bookshop.

Monday 29 November 2010

If there's a Russell in your hedgerow...

...don't be alarmed now, he'll just be catching the coneys.

On Friday I went ferreting on Romney Marsh with Russell Summers, a colourful character who, it would seem, is a bit of a legend in Kent - both for his ferreting skills and his unique way with words.

Born and "dragged up" (as he tells it) in London, he couldn't wait to get out to the countryside, where he's developed a passion for rabbiting, with ferrets, nets and dogs. He doesn't like to use a gun, he told me, certainly not around his ferrets or dogs. Besides, having seen him work with his long nets, I can't imagine he'd have much need for a gun. Not much gets past him!

He has adopted the new quick-set type of long-net, which is carried in a wire-framed basket with a shoulder strap. It was impressive to see Russell peg down one end of the net, then walk backwards pausing only briefly to plant each pole; a 100-yard net was set in little over a minute.

Then it's in with the ferrets. Russell doesn't muck about with two or three ferrets - he was using 11 on Friday, all bred by himself (he's very proud of his pure-bred strain of wild polecats, but that's another story).

On this crisp, sunny morning the rabbits weren't hanging about to argue with that lot - they bolted well from the first hole, and soon we had a dozen or so in the bag.

Later in the day we moved to a long run of old hedgerow, where the rabbits were less cooperative. Despite the large team (a "business") of ferrets, they were hole-hopping rather than following the plan and bolting into the nets. That's where we really could have done with a decent dog or two.

Still, there was plenty of Mark Gilchrist's game pie, and a Thermos of hot soup, to cheer us up. And even the most tardy ferret was retrieved well before sunset.

Thanks to Mark Gilchrist, his friend Cai, plus Russell and his colleagues, for a very successful and informative day. I'll be writing a feature about it for our next issue.

Meanwhile, here's the song I alluded to in the headline. Enjoy...

Sunday 21 November 2010

They've all gone badger bonkers

It's badger madness in the media. As the deadlines for consultations approach in England and Wales, everyone from Brian May and George Monbiot to the Badger Trust and the RSPCA is offering their opinion - and doing their best to whip up a storm of indignation at the impending 'senseless slaughter' (May) by 'bloody-minded dolts' (Monbiot).

As you try to make sense of all the hysterical outpourings, here are a few simple facts to keep in mind:
  • There is no such thing as "badger baiting." People do not catch badgers and set up organised fights, in the manner of cockfighting or dogfighting (which do exist). It's a fiction put about by animal rights groups to smear anyone in favour of culling.
  • 'Perturbation' is what happens when you make a half-hearted, incompetent effort to cull badgers. That is what was proved by the RBCT, nothing more or less. It tells us nothing about what might happen if a cull is planned and executed properly.
  • The ISG report is fundamentally flawed, because it is based on a false assumption: that the source of TB infection in cattle is split precisely into thirds: 1/3 from cattle movement, 1/3 from cattle-to-cattle within the herd, and 1/3 from badgers. This is demonstrably false, and contradicts studies carried out before, during and after the ISG's work.
  • An infected badger becomes a 'super excreter', spewing millions of bacteria everywhere it goes, particularly in its urine. The disease works very differently in cattle, which do not produce infective material in anything like the same way - in fact it is virtually impossible to detect the disease in the urine, snot, etc of infected cattle (otherwise we wouldn't need to use such unsatisfactory tests to detect it).
  • Vaccination of badgers is not a viable solution, for many reasons - in particular, it's pointless vaccinating already infected badgers, which in TB hotspots are the majority.
We almost beat bovine TB back in the 80s, with a robust policy of cattle testing and gassing badgers. Even the 'clean ring' policy held things in check. But as the political climate turned, badger protectionism grew - and bTB spiralled out of control.

This is not rocket science. We could wipe out bTB in a few years if government had the cojones to go back to gassing setts of infected badgers, together with a strict and effective policy of cattle testing and movement control. Sadly, thanks to the efforts of May, Monbiot, RSPCA and the rest, that will be politically impossible - we will end up with a half-arsed policy, condemning thousands of cattle, and badgers, to an unpleasant death for years to come. And they claim to be the ones who care about animal welfare!

Interesting video here...

Friday 19 November 2010

Falconry is officially 'a living cultural heritage'

At a Meeting of the Parties to the 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Nairobi this week, UNESCO has officially designated Falconry on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The submission was made by Abu Dhabi on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain and the Syrian Arab Republic. It is expected that Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Slovakia will be added shortly.

In its evaluation, the UNESCO Committee declared that Falconry, recognised by its community members as part of their cultural heritage, is a social tradition respecting nature and the environment, passed on from generation to generation, and providing them with a sense of belonging, continuity and identity.

Dr Nick Fox, who helped prepare the submission, said: “This is a milestone in the history of world falconry. I hope that one day soon the British government will also sign the Convention instead of waiting in the wings while our own rich British falconry cultural identity fades away. Despite Britain’s tardiness in cultural affairs, falconry is flourishing here. Up to 25,000 people keep birds of prey and find falconry a way to provide hands on contact with the natural world.”

Well done falconry! Now, who's next? Wildfowlers? Ferreters? Hunting perhaps? Many of our traditional countryside activities deserve this sort of recognition, but we've not been very good at promoting ourselves as a 'living heritage'.

Gamekeeper at work image wins landscape photography prize

A stunning picture of a gamekeeper burning heather on a Yorkshire grouse moor has won one of the top prizes in the Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards 2010.

Jon Brook’s image 'Heather burning on the Lancashire/Yorkshire Border' was taken of the keeper controlling the last burn of the day on the Fourstones Estate. The sunset behind the flames and the smoke lends the picture an otherworldly atmosphere.

The image was chosen by the judges of the Take-a-view Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards as the best image in the Living the View category. The category is one of four main categories in the award and is specifically for landscape photography that features people as part of an interesting landscape composition. Other images in this category included kite surfers in the waves in Norfolk, sheep farmers in snow, Bee Keeping in North Yorkshire and cricket on the beach in Kent.

This image along with the  rest of the winning and shortlisted images from the awards is published in a beautiful coffee table book, which celebrates the beauty of the United Kingdom, from shore to mountain, called Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 4 (AA Publishing £25). The image will also be part of an exhibition, running at the National Theatre in London from 22 November to 16 January before it departs on a nationwide tour.

Purdey Awards recognise shooting's finest conservation successes

The Duke of Norfolk's Peppering Shoot, a glittering conservation
success story, and winner of the 2010 Purdey Award. The shoot
has successfully restored wild grey partridges on the South Downs
Conservation success stories on game shoots large and small were recognised last night at the Purdey Awards, held in the historic Long Room at Purdeys' shop in London.

The Gold Award went to the Duke of Norfolk, for an astonishingly successful six year project to restory wild grey partridges on the South Downs near Arundel. Starting with just a handful of birds threatened with extinction, the Duke and his team have successfully built up a robust population of over 2,000. Many songbirds and other species have also benefited from the conservation work carried out on the Peppering Shoot over the past six years, contributing to a major improvement in the biodiversity of the area.

Ten further awards were presented across the evening, including the Purdey Silver Award, and £2000, to brothers Andrew and William Pitts from Northamptonshire for exemplary shoot and game management.

There were two Purdey Bronze Awards presented and £500 each, to Alan Wilson of Warrington, and Chris Spence of Calbourne, Isle of Wight. They were both recognised for their outstanding conservation led shoots with a strong community spirit.

Two Special Awards of £1000 were also announced. The first was to Colin Blanchard and Malcolm Riding, from the Northern School of Game and Wildlife in Cumbria, and to Graham Downing, and the Alde and Ord Wildfowlers Association in Suffolk.

The Purdey Awards for Game and Conservation have their origins in the Laurent Perrier Wild Game and Conservation Awards, which were run annually by Laurent Perrier Champagne (UK) Ltd from 1986 until 1998. James Purdey & Sons took over their sponsorship in 1999, but Laurent Perrier have maintained their support.


The Peppering Shoot, Arundel, West Sussex
The Purdey Shield, the Gold Award and
£5,000 + Jeroboam Laurent-Perrier Champagne

The Duke of Norfolk was awarded the coveted Purdey Gold Award through his ambition, vision, and determination to succeed over six years with his project to restore coveys of all wild grey partridge to his corner of the South Downs

The Duke’s stated aim with the project is to show what can be done in a traditional wild partridge area, and to encourage other landowners and shooting tenants to bolt on their own wild partridge shoots with the objective of creating a nationally important wild partridge area on the South Downs. This will not only bring huge conservation benefits for wildlife, but also demonstrate how shooting and conservation work together to improve the countryside.

Mears Ashby Grange, Northamptonshire
The Purdey Silver Award
£2,000 + Magnum Laurent-Perrier Champagne

Andrew and William Pitts farm 680 acres in Northamptonshire, in three units, on which they specialise in producing seed quality wheat. One of these, Grange Farm at Mears Ashby, accommodates their shoot, where they carry out all keepering and conservation work themselves.

The project proves that it can be economically viable to farm in an environmentally friendly way, while also having an excellent wild bird shoot.

The Pitts brothers are true enthusiasts equally passionate about their farming, their conservation work and their shoot. They actively promote good PR with farm open days in order to meet and talk with a wide variety of organisations such as the RSPB and CPRE. Pupils from their local primary school are regular visitors to Grange Farm as it is approved by the OFSTED Community Cohesion Link scheme.

Rixton Firs Shoot, Warrington, Cheshire
The Purdey Bronze Award
£500 + Magnum Laurent-Perrier Champagne

Rixton Firs is a remarkable twenty year project which has turned 54 acres of swampy Cheshire woodland into what was later described as a wildlife wonderland enabling with a delightful small shoot and a strong local community spirit.

The project was started 20 years ago in a wood intended for pigeon shooting. Since then members of the syndicate, led by Alan Wilson, have turned Rixton Firs from a dense sterile wood into a productive small shoot embracing many excellent conservation measures to improve game and wildfowl habitats. This has hugely improved the environment of an area which previously hosted very little wildlife at all.

New Barn Shoot, Calbourne, Isle of Wight
The Purdey Bronze Award
£500 + Magnum Laurent-Perrier Champagne

Chris Spence was commended for his beautifully positioned, well managed, community spirited, 500 acre shoot at New Barn Farm, Calbourne, on the Isle of Wight. Mr. Spence has been actively and energetically engaged in conservation-led improvements since 1996.

The judges applauded Mr Spence’s ongoing efforts, in creating an excellent shoot with an abundance of wildlife and the much improved biodiversity.

Newton Rigg, Penrith, Cumbria
Purdey Special Award
£1,000 + Magnum Laurent-Perrier Champagne

Colin Blanchard and Malcolm Riding were recognised for their leadership in achieving consistent high standards for the University of Carlisle’s Northern School of Game and Wildlife at Newton Rigg in Cumbria. The game management courses are run by Malcolm and Colin and the fine reputation of the college, which was built up by its many students who learned the essentials of their craft at Newton Rigg, speaks for itself. The judges were greatly impressed by the thoroughness of the courses and the quality of training provided.

Aldeburgh Town Ponds, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
Purdey Special Award
£1,000 + Magnum Laurent-Perrier Champagne

Graham Downing, Secretary of the Alde and Ore Association (and association members), were commended for their work in the restoration of the Aldeburgh Town Ponds in Suffolk, owned by Aldeburgh Town Council.

The Alde and Ore Wildfowlers Association managed successfully to negotiate a ten year lease of the shooting rights over an area of old ponds and reed beds against competition from both the RSPB and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. With the assurance of a ten year lease under their belts they were able to restore the ponds from their derelict and overgrown state changing what had become an eyesore into an attractive civic amenity. The ponds now attract a wide variety of migratory duck, providing the members with a few days duck flighting each winter.

Plumpton College, East Sussex
Purdey- Highly Commended
Magnum Laurent-Perrier Champagne

The Plumpton College shoot was recognised for the students’ efforts in achieving a high standard of game and habitat management, and under the supervision of tuition team Neil Bianchi and his son Jamie, for the efficient running of syndicate shoot days.

The college shoot is run over 500 acres of the college’s 2000 acre arable and livestock farm at the foot of the South Downs escarpment. The game management team have also recently restored three ponds to encourage wild duck, and cleared two streams. Plumpton college focuses largely on land based courses, including game and shoot management.

Cauldshiel, East Lothian
Purdey-Highly Commended
Magnum Laurent-Perrier Champagne

Keith Maxwell, owner of The Cauldshiel Farm shoot, was commended for his sound shoot management and conservation efforts, not only providing friends and family with three high quality shoot days a season, but with a great sense of achievement for their improvements to the overall biodiversity of the farm.

Cauldshiel was cited as being a well run non commercial shoot with strong local community involvement. It was highlighted that over the past 25 years, Mr Maxwell has undertaken extensive planting programmes to create new hedges and woodland, and dug new ponds which are successfully attracting duck. All these well proven conservation measures are encouraged by the desire to improve the shoot, and have succeeded in endowing Cauldshiel with much greater biodiversity than was the case a quarter of a century ago.

Ben Rinnes, Aberlour, Morayshire
Purdey-Finalist Certificate
Magnum Laurent-Perrier Champagne

Dick Bartlett, shoot tenant of Ben Rinnes, Glenrinne and Drummuir Estates, in Aberlour, Morayshire, was recognised for his dedication to the conservation of the local area.

Nine years ago, Dick Bartlett set up the British Moorlands project in order to tend to a number of previously unmanaged moors, amongst them - Ben Rinnes, Glenrinnes and Drummuir Estates. Through the creation of ponds, management of wetlands and targeted predator control, Bartlett has managed to run successful shooting days across the estates, and has future plans to extend his British Moorlands project to other areas where grouse production has become impossible over the last four decades.

Criftins Farm Shoot, Ellesmerem Shropshire
Purdey-Finalist Certificate
Magnum Laurent-Perrier Champagne

Mr. and Mrs. Bevan, who run the Criftins Farm Shoot, were rewarded for the high standards they had achieved in running their exemplary farm shoot.

David Bevan, a former FWAG (Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group) award winner was commended for his well established and well run farm shoot. David and Ann Bevan took on the full time running of the shoot in 2008 after they had discontinued dairying. They have exciting plans to develop their shoot further, with increasing emphasis on game and wildlife habitat management and conservation.

Westcroft, Whitehaven, Cumbria
Purdey-Finalist Certificate
Magnum Laurent-Perrier Champagne

Gordon Thomson, owner of the Westcroft Shoot, was rewarded for successfully increasing the number of hand reared and wild game birds across fifty two acres and for his work over several years in developing a high quality small shoot.

In the past eight years Gordon has planted in excess of 3000 trees, created three ponds and successfully bred wild grey partridge into the area.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Another cunning stunt from the RSPB

The RSPB have issued yet another anti-shooting press release - cunningly embargoed to shit on any positive coverage arising from tonight's Purdey Awards ceremony, which will showcase some of the finest examples of real, practical conservation work carried out on game shoots nationwide.

There is no valid reason for the embargo in this release - no event, no new information. It's purely a device to manipulate the timing of media coverage.

This is a coincidence too far (remember their equally well timed press releases for the CLA Game Fair, etc?).

There is no longer any doubt in my mind. The RSPB intend to destroy shooting. It's war.

UPDATE: I had an email from Grahame Madge, RSPB media officer, saying that the timing of the release was coincidental. My reply follows...

From: Madge, Grahame
Sent: 19 November 2010 11:21
To: Marchington, James
Subject: Hen harrier release

Hi James, your suggestion that the RSPB issued the hen harrier press release to spoil tonight’s award ceremony does not fairly represent the situation. This coincidence is purely accidental. The Society does not want to see an end to shooting or to condemn all parts of the industry. In fact, we are always keen to work with those actively involved in conservation. However, we recognise that a few bad apples are tarnishing the shooting industry’s reputation. In the past, I have gone to considerable effort to praise those keepers who, for example, work alongside the recently reintroduced red kite. I hope to find further examples of good practice in future.
However, we will also continue to publicise illegal acts committed by the industry. Regrettably, there is a steady stream of persecution incidents continually coming to light to keep me busy.

Have a nice evening
Regards Grahame

From: Marchington, James
Sent: 19 November 2010 11:56
To: Madge, Grahame
Subject: RE: Hen harrier release

Hi Grahame,

Thanks for your email - I appreciate you taking the trouble to respond.

It's a complex issue, and I appreciate that RSPB does, on occasion, cooperate with shooting estates. The overall impression, however, is one of a sustained campaign of attrition, with shooting attacked on a number of fronts (general licences, lead shot, the emotively labelled "persecution", etc). The 'bad apples' message is lost on the general public, who would quite understandably infer from yesterday's release that shooting generally is responsible for wholesale slaughter of harriers and other birds of prey, and that shooting per se is a major threat to conservation.

If the RSPB is genuine about not wanting to see an end to shooting, and wanting to work with shooting estates, then it has a huge credibility gap to overcome. Its current communication and lobbying policies are driving a massive wedge between itself and shooters who are actively engaged in conservation work. Take for example your own words "we will also continue to publicise illegal acts committed by the industry"; these acts are not committed by "the industry", they are committed by criminals who are roundly condemned by "the industry" (it isn't one), a point that seems lost on the RSPB.

I hope one day we might see you issuing a press release about how Mark Avery presented the Purdey Awards and praised the splendid conservation work done by xyz shooting estate, but I fear that day is a long way off and we are currently heading in the opposite direction.

Best wishes,


Keeper fined for using poison

Lewis Whitham, 20, a gamekeeper on the Hopetoun Estate in South Lanarkshire, has been fined £800 (reduced from £1,000) after pleading guilty at Lanark Sheriff Court to planting a poisoned rabbit carcass.

Good. Poison is not only abhorrent to me personally, the use of it by any gamekeeper, anywhere, is enormously damaging to shooting.

Let's hope that a proper convinction and fine will encourage a few dinosaurs in the keepering world to reconsider their use of methods that belong in a museum with the man-traps and spring-guns.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

At last, people who know what they're talking about

I spent a fascinating day at a symposium entitled 'Wildlife management and zoonotic infections', organised by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.

How refreshing to listen to people who a) Know what they're talking about, and b) Approach the subject objectively rather than spouting the first emotive nonsense that enters their heads.

Speakers included Dr Harriet Auty from Glasgow Veterinary School, Vic Simpson FRCVS, Dr Andy Paterson from DEFRA's wildlife health team, Dr Anna Meredith, head of the exotic animal & wildlife service at Royal Dick, Edinburgh, John Chitty MRCVS, Dr John Gallagher, Christianne Glossop the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Lord Mancroft, and Stephen Lomax, barrister and MRCVS. An impressive line-up indeed - and in addition we heard from Jonathan Reynolds and Mike Swan of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.

There was so much to absorb that I'm still taking it all in. There are several speakers who raised issues that I want to follow up and cover in depth, but there just wasn't time in this packed day to grab anyone for even a quick interview.

As a taster, though, here are a few of the scribbled notes I made during the day:
  • Echinococcosis - carried by foxes, infects humans, incubation period 5-15yrs, mortality >90%, now in Belgium and heading our way at 3km/year.
  • Toxicara - low risk to public, but doesn't half sell a lot of worming products!
  • Hedgehogs - numbers down 44% in the last 25 years and no-one has a clue why.
  • "There is no welfare issue in death"
  • Defra is currently working on a Risk Assessment for wild deer - what's that all about?
  • Wildlife 'hospitals' - no regulation, poor records, serious welfare questions. "Less about animal welfare and more about making people feel good". Great fundraising tool.
  • Most common admission to wildlife hospitals is the feral pigeon. 2nd is hedgehog.
  • Most injured wildlife should be culled on the spot. Rehabilitation rates appallingly low.
  • When does a wildlife 'hospital' become a 'sanctuary'; legally, is it a zoo?
  • ISG report on Bovine TB is 'the dodgy dossier'. Based on fundamentally flawed assumption. Figures actually prove majority of cattle infections come from badgers.
  • In Wales, it is possible to get your TB reactor cattle illegally 'laundered', at a price.
  • Brian May shook Christianne Glossop's hand and said he was a scientist!!! Offered to tell her how to solve the TB problem.
  • Important to respond to TWO badger consultations - DEFRA and Wales.
  • RSPB can't fund a full time warden for xyz reserve but staff on hand 24/7 when the peregrines hatch on the cathedral; how much funding does each generate?
  • Natural England head of biodiversity says major benefit of reintroductions is 'engaging the public'. Driving past dormouse wood makes him feel great. Oh FFS!
  • What's all this about 'semi-official' reintroductons of beavers in England??? Technically captive but there have been 'escapes' - illegal if deliberate. What about diseases carried by those beavers (the diseases aren't captive).
  • There is no such thing as 'Badger Baiting'. It's a fiction perpetuated by LACS, RSPCA to support their badger campaigning.
  • RSPCA: "Prosecution is Education".
  • Britain's rarest mammal: the black rat. Why no reintroduction programme?
  • Scandinavian research tested badgers' reaction to terriers in sett (heart rate, cortisol levels, etc). Result: not bothered in the slightest - less reaction than when play-fighting.

See - I said it was fascinating didn't I! Expect to see some of those develeloped into stories on here or in the magazine in due course.

On thing that did cross my mind: with people of this standard readily available, why does the BBC call on bunny-huggers like Brian May when they want to inform their viewers about wildlife issues? There really is no excuse. It's either incredibly incompetent journalism, dumbing down to the level of lowest common denominator, or a deliberate attempt to mislead. Whichever it is, it's time the BBC Trust intervened. Licence fee payers deserve better.

Sheep eat hen harriers

An amazing admission by RSPB Scotland is reported on the Raptor Politics blog. On Orkney, between 1973 and the 1990s, the number of breeding female hen harriers crashed from 100 to just 3. That's right, a 97% drop. And not a gamekeeper in sight.

The crash is attributed to grazing by sheep - numbers doubled during the 1980s in response to CAP subsidies. Now the CAP subsidies have been reformed, sheep numbers have fallen again, and harriers are recovering.

Of course the RSPB still manage to get in the obligatory broadside: "Illegal disturbance and killing continues to be the main barrier to this beautiful bird returning to many parts of the country where it should be commonplace."

Nothing to do with excessive numbers of deer, sheep, etc then. Or militant do-gooders stravaiging all over the place during the breeding season. It's all the fault of those ghastly posh people and their wicked gamekeepers (cue green smoke, audience hisses).

Is there a handbook of how to campaign to ban something you don't like?

Consider this quote:

Dr David Fabry, who led the research, said: "We really do not know exactly how much xxxxx you need to be exposed to in order to be at increased risk. But we do know that the threshold for damage is very low. Really, the safe level of exposure is no exposure."

Was he talking about lead shot in game? He could have been - we've heard almost those exact same words spouted against lead shot by the WWT, RSPB and other anti-shooting groups, even though by the best scientific estimates you'd have to eat game for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week for there to be any detectable effect.

No, in this case, Dr Fabry was attacking smoking, on grounds that the splendid Moose takes issue with. I wonder if these people have a handbook full of useful pseudo-scientific phrases that sound scary but actually mean nothing at all.

Friday 12 November 2010

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh opens BASC's new media centre building

I was at BASC HQ in Wrexham today to see HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, the organisation's patron, open their fabulous new communications centre. More info in the BASC press release here...

His Royal Highness unveiled a commemorative plaque, toured the communications centre and was served a lunch of venison stew prepared by restaurateur, broadcaster and BASC council member Mike Robinson. Staff, guests, council members and their families enjoyed the same meal. 

BASC's political, press, publications, fundraising, policy, membership and marketing, design and web teams are based in the new centre, which features a state of the art editing suite and television facilities, radio booth and design studio.

John Swift, BASC's chief executive, said: "BASC is delighted that The Duke of Edinburgh has agreed that his name can be used for the new communications centre. The centre provides BASC with the latest communications technology for the promotion and defence of sporting shooting in the 21st Century." 

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Michaela Strachan 'wasn't hard-core enough' for Countryfile

There's a fascinating employment tribunal case going on, which gives a little insight into the way the BBC approaches its coverage of what it calls "rural affairs".

Shooters often complain that the BBC has an anti-shooting bias - and their coverage of the recent Exmoor Emperor story might add weight to that argument. But how does the organisation go about its rural coverage, and is there any hope of getting more favourable (or at least less unfavourable) mentions of shooting on the telly, radio, BBC websites and the rest?

The case centres around Michaela Strachan and Miriam O'Reilly, who were 'let go' when Countryfile moved to its prime-time evening slot in April 2009. They claim it was due to ageism and sexism. The BBC argues not. Their head of rural affairs, Andrew Thorman, gives a host of other reasons - including, for instance, that Strachan was "a vegetarian, and wasn't happy to do hard-core stories in meat production."

All good knockabout stuff, and more entertaining than much of the BBC's output. But I'm looking beyond the soundbites, to try and learn what on earth the BBC is trying to do with its 'rural' coverage, and how it makes the decisions that can seem, to us at least, stark raving bonkers.

Portrait of a huntress wins major photographic prize

This stunning image of a 14 year old girl on horseback with a buck she hunted, by David Chancellor, has won the Taylor Wessing prize. Chancellor won £12,000 for the picture, described by Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery and chairman of the judges, "a powerful and beautiful portrait, a worthy winner amidst a strong international submission". More at the Guardian website here...

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Lead ban isn't working

Shooters are ignoring the lead ban and shooting ducks with lead shot, according to a study funded by Defra and carried out by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

Researchers found that 70% of ducks purchased from English game dealers, butchers and supermarkets had been shot illegally with lead. The study concluded that amongst those supplying game dealers and retail outlets, compliance with the law on lead shot is poor.

The WWT press release says that although their survey showed relatively good understanding of the spirit* of the law, up to 45% of respondents admitted to not always complying. "Survey responses included the belief that lead poisoning was not a sufficient problem to justify the regulations, and there were perceived issues** surrounding availability, cost and efficiency of the alternatives to lead, together with a lack of enforcement of the regulations."

[* Note 'spirit'. I'll bet that understanding of the practical details is much lower - hence the 45%, some of whom may be saying 'I've probably broken it because I don't really understand what it says'.

** Despite what's being claimed on other blogs, 'perceived issues' is not the same thing as someone saying 'I break the law cos I'm unlikely to get caught'. This is not the same 45% explaining 'why' they broke the law. And what's with "up to 45%". Was it 45 % or wasn't it? 2% falls within "up to 45%".]

The WWT calls on the government "to take urgent action to ensure that the risk of lead poisoning in waterbirds is substantially reduced by ensuring that lead gunshot is no longer used over wetlands or for shooting waterfowl and that the UK honours its international commitments."

Antis, from LACS to RSPB, will love it - I suspect the sirens are already sounding at BASC HQ. Oh look, Avery is jumping up and down with excitement already.

One interesting claim made in Avery's blog post: he says, "Defra has just withdrawn its secretarial support from the Lead Ammunition Group." (On checking I discover that this too is misleading - they simply can't spare anyone over the next couple of months, but there will be Defra staff available in time for the next scheduled meeting).

Oh how they're loving it... WWT themselves misleadingly tweeted:

It doesn't of course - it confirms that lead shot is still rather effective at bringing them down.

All in all, pretend outrage at poor compliance with a stupid and poorly communicated law which is misdirected at the species being shot rather than the type of land where the shot will fall. Further proof of the RSPB's anti-shooting agenda.

And no, that  doesn't mean I condone lawbreaking. Responsible shooters should always comply with the letter of the law, no matter how silly it is - but that needn't stop us campaigning to get it changed.

Thursday 4 November 2010

New film on the 'King of the Norfolk Poachers'

A new documentary DVD sets out to reveal the truth behind the classic book on poaching 'I Walked by Night'. There are pre-Christmas screenings at Kings Lynn (14 Nov) and Norwich (5 Dec), and a screening at Bungay on 23 March. Trailer below, more info here.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Thieves targeting ferrets now?

Anyone who lives in the countryside knows about the crimewave that dare not speak its name. If it ain't nailed to the floor, it goes. The police don't want to know, even when you can tell them precisely where the missing goods are located. Try tackling the problem yourself and barns mysteriously catch fire.

I suppose its the ferreting season coming up - but I've recently heard of a handful of cases around the country where ferrets have gone missing. In each case, it wasn't just the ferrets that went, but various items of ferreting kit too. One poor old chap lost his favourite ferreting spade, which he'd had since he was a boy.

I don't suppose there's much an individual can do, other than take some obvious precautions - locking up the gear if possible, perhaps moving the hutch out of sight from casual visitors, and rigging up a security light or two to discourage thieves from snooping around.

...or maybe you could catch up a few of these and keep them around the place - skunks! Apparently there are some living wild in Britain, and this one was spotted near Kidderminster. If you're about to press 'play' be warned, the chap who found it was so surprised that he said some rather rude words. You might want to mute your speakers for the sake of any children present!

Monday 1 November 2010

526 cartridges, 477 pigeons

Last week I was out again with ace pigeonshooter Andy Crow. As luck would have it, the weather was superb, and he had picked a great spot - a field of soya bean stubble with plenty of food laying on the ground. The birds piled in all day long, and by the end of the day the tally was an astonishing 477 birds for 526 cartridges - Andy's biggest day ever by a margin of 73. That kills-to-cartridges ratio is phenomenal, especially at pigeons, where every bird is different.

Those numbers may sound excessive, but you have to remember that this isn't sport, it's pest control - every one of those birds is pulling the farmers' seed out of the ground, day in day out (see photo below). Control is vital to prevent serious crop losses.

More on Andy and his techniques in forthcoming issues of the magazine.

Milking it: the Emperor lives on

The tale of the Exmoor Emperor rolls on - but now the newspapers are beginning to smell a rat.

For the Daily Mail at least, that rat is Johnny Kingdom, former poacher and gravedigger who has reinvented himself as the avuncular nature-loving wildlife cameraman with a penchant for Realtree and wide-brimmed hats.

According to the Mail, he's now milking the Emperor story for all it's worth, which by now must be considerably more than any trophy fee that he might have fetched, if he was even shot, which is beginning to look less and less likely.

Even Richard Austin, purveyor of mawkish animal images to the media, who has done more than his fair share in stirring up this non-story, is now wondering about the coincidences - apparently the same 'nature lover' called him 12 years ago, to the day, about the supposed death of another 'much loved' stag.

All this hasn't stopped MP David Crausby tabling an Early Day Motion (and 9 other bandwagon-jumpers, so far, from signing it): "That this House condemns the shooting of the stag known as the Exmoor Emperor; believes that this beautiful animal, standing nearly nine feet tall should have been spared to live out his life as a magnificent example of the Giant Red Stag, the biggest wild land animal in the UK; and calls on the Government to protect special individual animals from this kind of senseless destruction."

Don't we Brits just love a good animal story? The Exmoor Emperor will take its place alongside the Tamworth Two, the Beast of Exmoor and other popular legends. I just hope that in the process, it doesn't undermine the serious business of managing our deer populations responsibly.

Sunday 31 October 2010

Shot a fox

Nobody told the fox that the hour had changed, so he was following his usual routine and appeared about 6.50 GMT. The plan was to call him in across the field to my front, and I was all set up to take a good steady shot. I called a couple of times, and saw nothing - then suddenly there he was, almost at my feet, looking up as if to say "what's a dying rabbit doing up there?" I adjusted my position as quietly as possible, and took the shot as he stared up at me, trying to work it all out. At such close range the .17HMR knocked him flat with no trouble. He was a biggish adult dog, not one of this year's cubs, and in excellent condition.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Biodiversity and terrorism

Delingpole puts it so well: Biodiversity, "a noble-seeming concept has been subverted by the watermelons of the green movement in exactly the same way as “Climate change” has and with precisely the same aims: to extend the powers of government; to raise taxes; to weaken the capitalist system; to curtail personal freedom; to redistribute income; to bring ever-closer the advent of an eco-fascist New World Order."

Precisely. Just as we hear shouts of "terrorism" and "paedophiles" each time there's a new attack on personal freedom, so "biodiversity" is invoked by those who really mean "we're taking over your land". Folks like the RSPB start by saying wildlife belongs to "the nation", and five minutes later are claiming it for themselves - they're the experts after all? - and demanding wider and wider powers from government to help them do it. Wake up people, there's a revolution going on!

Update: Taking the argument to its logical conclusion, the League Against Cruel Sports are now arguing that shooters are getting a "free lunch" out of the nation's wildlife, and should be stopped.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Is the RSPCA bullying vets?

Here's an alarming report (on a transparently anti-RSPCA blog) suggesting that the RSPCA is deliberately intimidating vets who dare to stand up as expert witnesses against them in court cases. I hope it's not true, but on past performance I have to say it sounds very much in character with this organisation, which seems to have forgotten its primary purpose of looking after animals and now prefers to march around in uniforms intimidating people.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Who shot the Exmoor Emperor?

Every now and then, a shooting-related story hits all the right buttons and explodes across the media - the shooting of Emperor, the huge red stag on Exmoor, is such a tale. The papers are full of the story, told in breathless, horrified tones. The Daily Mirror tops the lot, with the headline "Britain's biggest wild animal, the legendary 9ft red deer known as Emperor, is shot dead by vile trophy hunters" - illustrated with a photo of a man with an over-and-under shotgun!

So what really happened? And is it cause for alarm? The facts are sketchy, to say the least. It seems likely (but not certain) that this particular stag, familiar to local residents and wildlife enthusiasts, has been shot. Reading between the lines, it would appear the stag was shot legally, perhaps by a paying guest stalker, perhaps a visiting 'trophy hunter'. The decision to shoot that animal at that time may or may not have been a good one in terms of herd management; I don't suppose we'll ever know, and in any case deer 'experts' could debate that one for weeks.

The story seems to have reached the papers via Richard Austin, a wildlife photographer who photographed the stag earlier this month [following the TV news later, I learnt he is a staffer on the Western Morning News, and enjoys wildlife photography in his spare time]. He was contacted by a 'local naturalist' who had come across a 'a group of stalkers' standing over the carcass (who nevertheless weren't the ones that shot it). They watched as the carcass was removed. [Actually that doesn't quite ring true does it? I suspect the 'naturalist' heard shots, went to see what it was all about, and came across the stalkers in the process of gralloching and recovering the carcass].

Richard Austin then provided the story and his photos to a local paper [or as seems more likely, rushed back to the office with his scoop], which contacted Peter Donnelly, "a Dulverton based deer management expert with a lifetime’s experience" [we now know that Austin and Donnelly knew each other from previous stories on this particular stag]. Donnelly clearly has a bee in his bonnet about the deer seasons, because he took the opportunity to have a proper rant: "It’s a disgrace that this magnificent animal has been shot at this time because it could be that he didn’t get a chance to rut properly this year - therefore his genes have not been passed on this time round. The poor things should be left alone during the rut - not harried from pillar to post."

This story then got picked up by the national press, radio and TV, as these things do. Most of the journalists have taken the whole thing at face value, and rehashed the story with their own paper's spin on it. A few have bothered to look for further quotes and information to pad out their story, mostly completely failing to understand what they're told and writing utter rot as a result.

The whole thing has dragged out the usual hysterical comments such as: "Don't you just love the way these sad pathetic creatures who call themselves hunters, take guns, because it makes them feel like big men, they then hide in the bushes until defenceless creatures wander along so they can blast away at them."

Before long antis like the League Against Cruel Sports will jump on the bandwagon and demand an end to this 'sick sport' which 'has no place in the 21st century' and should 'be consigned to the dustbin of history along with cockfighting, bullfighting and badger-baiting' and the cycle will be complete. Then the papers will find something else to be outraged about - the antics of a footballer perhaps - and we can all get back to business as usual, except that Richard Austin's wildlife photography business will have received a welcome boost. [I think I was being unkind to him; watching him interviewed on TV, I don't think he did it for the money or the notoriety - he genuinely seems to care about the deer, perhaps in a slightly romanticised way, and it's the other players in the story who have hammed it up for the cameras].

So it goes.

UPDATE: I hear Mike Yardley did a good job of explaining the need for deer management on the Jeremy Vine radio show. It should be available to listen to on the BBC iPlayer shortly here. Mike's bit comes just past the halfway mark.

UPDATE: Excellent piece published on the Guardian website of all places, by BASC's Glynn Evans, here.

UPDATE: I've added some notes in square brackets as more information comes to light. Now, 24 hours later, the news is full of airport security, the Indonesian tsunami, an air-sea rescue off the Scillies, etc, etc. The Emperor is forgotten, save for a few follow-up pieces that will appear over the next few days. As a passing comment, once again I was impressed with the speed and professionalism of BASC's response - they're getting good at responding to media stories like this. Jamie Stewart, in partcular, strikes just the right note - knowledgeable, caring, and most importantly not an 'arrogant posh bloke' of the type that was a gift to the antis at the time of the Hunting Bill.

I hope, in time, BASC and perhaps others will become more proactive - one thing this incident showed is that the media loves a good animal story, regardless of the facts. It shouldn't be impossible to start creating the odd 'Hunters save Bambi', 'Pigeon shooters foil bank robbers', etc.

Oh, and if you don't mind a bit of swearing, you may like this robust take on the story by Bill O'Rites...

UPDATE: Locals "smell a rat" - according to this story in the Guardian, the stag may still be alive and kicking. Either way, it was/is a long way from living up to the claim of "biggest land mammal in the UK". Meanwhile, North Devon's hotels and B&Bs are enjoying a welcome boost from journalists and tv crews sent to find "Who shot Emperor". I took a call from a Guardian journalist this morning, asking me to explain "what people get from deer stalking". I dread to think what he'll write!

Talking of the Guardian, for a worryingly strange view of hunters and hunting, Ruaridh Nicoll takes some beating. " I am not against shooting, even if I have lost my hunger for it," he says, then goes on to explain it's the motivation of hunters that worries him: "The instinct that makes a man kill a creature like the Emperor, I have always believed, rises from inadequacy." He goes on to retell the apocryphal tale of the American hunter in Africa who would shoot an animal, have his wife lie on it and have sex with her - a story that sounds less likely every time I hear it. I have no time for people who have no idea why people shoot, and fill that vacuum with twisted ideas dreamed up inside their own heads.

UPDATE: Bloody hell - Chris Packham defending shooting on Autumnwatch - whatever next?! Audio here: