Thursday 25 February 2010

Shooters write: "Dear DEFRA, please don't listen to BASC"

BASC's uncompromising stance on cage systems for game birds has certainly polarised the shooting community - to the point where BASC members are writing to DEFRA to tell them 'BASC don't speak on my behalf'.

An email currently circulating is headed 'Please read and respond if you wish your sport to have a future'. It provides suggested text for shooters to email DEFRA:

Fao Jim Fitzpatrick; as a lifelong Member of the B.A.S.C. I find myself having to contact you to ask you to ignore their representations on my behalf to ban the above systems.

I would also ask you to support the status quo at least until fuller research and consultations have been made. I would point out that presently I am giving serious consideration on whether I continue to support B.A.S.C. who have acted entirely without consultation, it appears as if the organisation has been hijacked by an individual with a particular opinion.
Whatever your view on cage systems, the row must be giving the antis a good laugh as they watch us shoot each other in the foot.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Quote of the day

"...whilst that community is very small, it has a big voice and it is very successful at creating the impression it is bigger than it really is."
League Against Cruel Sprouts, Parliamentary Briefing, Feb 2010

Looking forward to the CLA Game Fair at Ragley Hall

Vincent Hedley-Lewis, chairman of the Game Fair management committee,
and David Hough, CLA Game Fair director, with an early version of the
site plan for this year's CLA Game Fair, in front of Ragley Hall

Today I visited Ragley Hall, near Alcester in Warwickshire, for a sneak preview of the site for this year's CLA Game Fair, on 23-25 July.

It's a stunning location, with good road links via the M5, M42 and M40 - and also a wonderful showpiece estate with a great tradition of country sports. The shooting on the estate is let to a syndicate who shoot around 30 days a year. There are roe and fallow on the estate, with around 150 head of deer taken each year. And there's coarse fishing, taken by local fishing clubs, on the lake, river and reservoirs. The lake, which will form the centrepiece of this year's fair, is said to contain carp up to 15lb, and some eels of up to 9 or 10lb. And yes, they do have a problem with cormorants!

My attempt at a stitched-together panorama, taken from the far side of the lake,
where the CLA members enclosure is planned to be

The lovely Palladian house, designed in 1680, is home to the Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford, and stands in lovely 'Capability Brown' gardens. Around the grounds you'll find the Jerwood collection of quirky sculptures, not to everyone's taste but certainly eyecatching.

Chatting to estate manager Alan Granger, I was impressed to learn that the estate has its own butchers and farm shop selling meat and game from the estate. And they are keen on encouraging young people to come and learn about the countryside and how the estate works, running study days for local schools. The estate recently installed a wood-chip boiler, and now all the heating for the house is fuelled from its own managed woodlands. Coincidentally, Alan used to run Audley End, the estate next door to Sporting Shooter's old offices near Saffron Walden.

Aerial view of the site from Google Maps

Some random Game Fair facts I picked up today:
  • The CLA Game Fair gets around 140,000 visitors over the 3 days
  • There are around 900 exhibitors
  • The average visitor age is 39
  • 80% of visitors participate in at least one country sport
  • 62% of visitors shoot
  • The budget for the first Game Fair, in 1958, was £500
    (they overspent by around 40%, due to much higher than anticipated visitor numbers)
  • Around £15m of trade is done within the show
  • The fair generates around £13m for the local area

Sunday 21 February 2010

Lights, cameras... where are the pigeons?

Here's me trying to perfect my sincere and welcoming smile,
without appearing unbearably smug. More work needed, I'd say!

Yesterday I was in a pigeon hide with David Wright trying to film the last few sequences for our forthcoming pigeon shooting DVD. We were on some glorious rolling farmland near the MoD training area on Salisbury Plain. The weather was fabulous - bright sunshine, blue skies and not a breath of wind. Sadly, that's not the weather you need to see pigeons.

 David remained irrepressibly cheerful throughout, despite having
to sit on the frozen ground inside the hide to work on the script

There were plenty of pigeons when we arrived at the farmhouse - on the roof, in the ivy, on the trees around the farmyard, and flying overhead in clouds. And they were still there when we got back at the end of the day. But out on the farmland? Not a lot! Between five guns, spread over the farm, we had a total bag of 29 birds and 2 squirrels.

 I was shooting this Beretta AL391 Urika. I'm not normally a fan of
semi-autos, but for pigeons you can't beat it - a rugged, no nonsense tool

Still, on the bright side, we did get lots of the essential 'pieces to camera' done. When there are lots of birds to shoot, it's hard to tear yourself away for mundane details like an intro and links from one scene to the next. Now, with those 'in the can', we can begin to piece the whole thing together.

A frustrating day, but a productive one nevertheless.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Proposed windfarm + Objection + Section 106 = £££££

The RSPB's ambivalent attitude towards wind turbines (mentioned in my previous post) struck me as odd. Surely they're either a good thing or a bad thing?

I mentioned this to a contact who has some experience with the planning system - and he gave me a look that said "Duh, how thick are you?"

Well, very, when it comes to matters of planning, so I asked him to explain.

The name of the game, he told me, is Mitigation. And the chess pieces have names like Planning Application, Objection and Section 106.

It goes like this: Developer wants to build windfarm, puts in planning application. Highly respected NGO lodges an objection, citing 'concerns' about the effects on local wildlife. Planning application stalls. Horse trading begins. A deal is struck, whereby the objection is withdrawn on the understanding that the developer provides "mitigation" - this is all set out in a Section 106 document. Planning permission is granted, developer builds windfarm, everyone lives happily ever after. Well, apart from the birds diced and sliced by the turbines, and local residents made ill by low frequency vibrations, etc.

And what is this magical stuff, "mitigation"? That would depend on the skill of the negotiators. It could be land given over as a nature reserve, or works carried out to improve the conservation value of an area (nearby or far away). Or it could just be a large pile of money. To be used for very worthy conservation projects of course. Introducing sea eagles to a less than grateful Norfolk for instance.

Here's an example (pdf) of the game in action.

Of course, my friend is a cynical old bugger, and I'm sure he's just putting a negative spin on all this. But if it happened in a banana republic we'd have a very different name for it.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Does anything harm birds any more?

First it was squirrels, windfarms, then cats(!), now ravens. The RSPB seems to be on a mission to prove that all the usual suspects have no impact on birds whatsoever.

It can only be a matter of time before we see the society issuing a press release headed: "New research shows gamekeepers no threat to birds".

Meanwhile the GWCT have proper scientific research (c.f. guesstimates and waffle) to prove that sparrowhawks kill up to 40% of grey partridges (a threatened BAP species) overwinter. Expect an RSPB denial imminently.

Sunday 14 February 2010

How many birds does each wind turbine kill each year?

I've heard it said that grouse do very nicely thank you on the ground underneath wind turbines - thanks to said wind turbines' ability to chop any marauding birds of prey out of the sky. The grouse, of course, never get up high enough to be at risk.

I've seen no proof, however, and it could just be one of those stories folks tell after a few drinks.

Except that in the States, it seems there's quite a haul of decapitated birds - eagles included - piling up under wind turbines. The worryingly angry and ill-informed Raptor Politics blog pointed me to this link, which has some remarkable photos including this decapitated eagle:

Look further and you'll find stuff like this:

When I return to Skye later this year, I think I'll take a stroll up that glen where I shot my first walked-up grouse all those years ago - the one they've desecrated with a load of stonking great windmills - and see what's lying underneath them. It's about three quarters of a mile from a golden eagle eyrie, and always used to have several pairs of buzzards and the odd peregrine.

Meanwhile the RSPB seem to think they're a fine idea. Even though they've said that wind turbines kill birds. Funny that, they're not half so pragmatic when they think birds of prey are being killed by gamekeepers.

Friday 12 February 2010

RSPCA's fishy swan press release

I'd be the first to condemn anyone shooting a swan, which is pointless, mindless vandalism. But there's something odd about this RSPCA press release.

First off, the RSPCA bod says the swans were shot "over and over again at close range." No they weren't. If those are shotgun pellets, then each one fell victim to a single shot - and with that number of pellet strikes there's little doubt that the bird died instantly. So does the inspector really know that little about guns (if so he certainly isn't qualified to investigate this case)? Or is he just deliberately milking the "suffering" angle for the sake of a good story?

And the x-ray? Very graphic, but take a close look. Are those pellets inside the bird, or just spread on the table? There are plenty of pellets in that picture well outside the bird's body, and even beyond where the plumage would be.

Here's a larger version of that photo, which I requested from their press office (click on this to see the full size version):

I'm not saying they made it up, and I'm certainly not defending anyone shooting at swans. But there's clearly more to this story than they're letting on.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC has simply taken the story handed to them on a plate and repeated it verbatim. It's called churnalism.

UPDATE 15/2:
Well, I asked the RSPCA press office to confirm that this is an actual x-ray of the actual swan referred to in the press release, but as yet no response. Meanwhile the server logs reveal that this blog has received multiple visits from RSPCA HQ in Southwater, near Horsham.

In the absence of a reply, I enlarged a section of the photo and enhanced the brightness settings, in an attempt to find more. I don't know enough about Photoshop work and jpeg artefacts to make sense of the resulting image, but if any readers can help please get in touch. To my untrained eye, those pellets on the left of this image don't look like they belong.

A spot of Googling reveals that Inspector Dean Astill-Dunseith, from the RSPCA's Lincoln branch, is no stranger to the media. Among others, he starred in a story in the Sun featuring a hamster attacked by yobs using a lighter, another in the Sun making use of an x-ray image, and another in the Mirror of a pensioner bitten to death by his pet rat. He knows a good story when he sees one, which I'm sure is a skill much valued by a branch which until recently was desperate for funding. I'm interested to learn how the Branch managed to boost its annual income from £74k to £243k in a single year in 2008, but as it was 59 days late filing its accounts, the info isn't available yet.

UPDATE 16/2:

Today I had a response from Julie at the RSPCA press office, confirming that "the image is of one of the swans - that incidentally were found in Brisley, rather than Horningtoft as the release states". I have replied explaining my concerns over the image, and await developments.

Meanwhile, googling the less-than-common surname of Astill-Dunseith, I encounter one Rachel Astill-Dunseith of Branston, nr Lincoln - a somewhat militant vegan and defender of seals, badgers, puppies, whales etc. She was a vociferous supporter of the LACS/RSPCA campaign to ban hunting.

Ms Astill-Dunseith rashly handbagged The Register in Feb 08 over an anti-vegan article: "How my vegan children and I will laugh from our intellectually and compassionately superior platform as he dies a slow death as his colon struggles to expurge his over burdoned diet of meat and dairy products."

Nice. As they say in Private Eye, I wonder if perchance they are related?

UPDATE 21/2:

Well, still no word from the RSPCA press office, despite explaining my concerns about the x-ray image, and asking very politely if I might speak to Mr Astill-Dunseith. Still, they're probably busy dealing with stuff like this.

Meanwhile, I've had a response from a reader who has plenty of experience of image manipulation - he works on record sleeves, film posters and the like. He says: "it looks kosher to me – looks like the wing is folded back, and the pellets along the edges are probably lying just under the skin as opposed to in any muscle tissue so it’s most likely that it will appear clear. Shame there are people out there doing stuff like this, it doesn’t do the legal shooting fraternity any good, and is just fuel for the antis."

Well, if the x-ray is genuine, fair enough, and I owe the RSPCA an apology, despite their stonewalling. And he's right of course - there are morons out there with shotguns taking unsuitable shots at unsuitable quarry. Which is no reason to attack legitimate shooters, but that's a distinction that's lost on the public even without the help of the antis.

Chris Evans goes shooting at Bisley

This video is on the BBC Radio 2 website, together with a collection of photos from Chris's day shooting with George Digweed. We'll have a report in our next issue (out 3 March).

Meanwhile, here's a taster, from George Digweed's perspective:

George Digweed was thrilled to take part in the Sporting Challenge segment of The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2 this week. The feature sees Chris and his sports reporter Jonny Saunders participate in a different sporting activity each week, with an expert in the field on hand to train them up.

The pair have already taken on tennis, golf, darts and ice hockey, and for the fifth challenge George and Commonwealth gold target rifle winner Parag Patel welcomed them to the National Shooting Centre in Bisley.

George explains: "It was a dual day between clay pigeon shooting and rifle shooting. I was in charge of the clay shooting and Parag was in charge of the rifle shooting. So they turned up and we had some clay practice and then a competition, and then they shot a bit of rifle practice and then a rifle competition."

Neither Chris nor Jonny had much shooting experience before the challenge, but George says they took to the sport well, despite a difficult layout.

"The targets the National Shooting Centre put on were not really conducive to people that hadn't shot before. So on some targets they didn't shoot as well as they could have done because they hadn't really got an awareness of what they were doing, which was slightly unfortunate. But they thoroughly enjoyed it and I think they want to have another go.

"They're certainly both good enough to be able to take it further and take it on as a sport without any shadow of a doubt."

Jonny just edged the competition on this occasion, claiming the win after initially struggling to compete with an on-form Chris.

"Chris started better. He's got very good hand-eye co-ordination and knows what he's doing," says George. "But he switched off and then all of a sudden Jonny started hitting one or two and there was a bit of a problem for Chris. He hadn't done enough to be able to recover from that situation, so Jonny won."

And he was rewarded with a very special prize: one of George's World Championship medals.

"I donated one of my medals to the winner because I felt that the more they talk about the sport, the more publicity it's going to have. So I've done it for the benefit of the sport."

 [Pic: Don Brunt]

Saturday 6 February 2010

Pigeons and video


Today I've been out pigeon shooting with Andy Pye, working with David from on our forthcoming pigeonshooting DVD.

Andy started the day with high hopes: it was the first chance to get at the pigeons since the end of the game season, and a flock of 2,000 or so had been feeding on this rape field for the past few days. With a dozen or so other shooters out in the area, we should keep them on the move, and perhaps get a big bag.

Well, pigeons never read the manual, and these birds led us a merry dance all day. The forecast wind never really happened, and the sun came out. Conditions were far from ideal. 

We set up, changed our minds, moved into the wood, moved the decoys again, then went back into the wood. By the end of the day there were 74 birds in the bag between three of us, and we'd earned every one.

David appeared to have got plenty of good video, and now we're planning another visit next week, after the cover crops are cut.

More photos on my flickr page...

Wednesday 3 February 2010

I'm on the telly - well almost!

The next best thing - I'm on this week's programme on Actually that's better than the 'real' telly, which never seems to have anything useful to say about shooting. That's me following gundog trainer Chris Burns around on beaters' day at Penshurst. He talks to me about what makes a good beating dog, a great picking-up dog, whether or not a working dog can also be a family pet, and much more.


David - pictured with Chris above - did a brilliant job of filming and editing the programme, which really captured the spirit of a fantastic day's shooting. Great stuff!

Countryside Alliance awards

On a positive note, after my recent concerns over grouse moors, today I attended the Countryside Alliance reception for their excellent Awards, or as they like to bill them, the "Rural Oscars" (I'm sure that sooner or later that's going to rile the real Oscars, who are quite protective of their trademark).

Of course I took no pleasure from the fact that, while I sipped a glass of champagne and nibbled the hors doeuvres in the warm of the Terrace, Mark Avery and co were freezing their whatsits off in the park round the corner, holding up their peregrine mosaic and handing in their Birds of Prey petition.

Great to see the CA flying the flag for the countryside generally, proving that they're much more than just a hunting lobby group.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Monoculture grouse

Researching the sea eagle story below, I am increasingly coming up against stories and rumours that give cause for concern.

There are tales circulating of estates that will put up a massive deer fence, then set about eliminating every deer on the place. Hares too. It's all about defeating the ticks that hold down grouse numbers.

A recent story in Sporting Rifle magazine quoted Colin Shedden of BASC Scotland: "There is certainly concern about the move towards monoculture of grouse on areas that were traditional grouse and deer estates... A number of keepers and stalkers and others have already expressed their concern..."

Speaking anonymously to the same magazine, an Angus stalker said: "Economic considerations are of course vital to the successful running of all estates but for one or more species to suffer possible local extermination to benefit another raises serious concerns."

Tayside police wildlife officer Alan Stewart talked of visiting an estate where the deer had been fenced out with an electric fence; the hill was "silent, almost dead, a monoculture of grouse with hardly another vestige of wildlife to be seen". He says some estates are heading in the monoculture direction and finds it "a very worrying prospect indeed."

Damn right it is. That would effectively be intensively farming grouse on the open hill. It might be hugely profitable, but it goes against everything that real shooters stand for. And it would do terrible damage to the public perception of shooting.

Perhaps more worrying still are the rumours of threats and intimidation against keepers who don't toe the line.

I hope they're just that - rumours. But having those sort of rumours going round does shooting's image no favours. I'd welcome any suggestions about how they can be proved or scotched once and for all.