Saturday 8 May 2010

Beyond the law

I met a chap in the woods today. He was a TV producer's stereotype of a gamekeeper, or a poacher, or a bit of both. He wore tattered green trousers, a threadbare woolen jumper, a worn-out old wax coat and boots with holes. I swear he had baler twine for a belt. Worzel Gummidge hair stuck out from under a greasy tweed hat, and the glowing stub of a roll-up was stuck to his bottom lip. As he talked, I found myself staring at the cigarette, wondering how it didn't fall off, or burn him. At his feet were two terriers of indeterminate breed. A bit of Jack Russell in one, a bit of Border in the other.

The average man in the street would dismiss him as an idiot. I don't suppose he reads much, if at all. But he missed nothing that went on around him - the wood itself was his newspaper, and he knew the meaning of every track and sign, every bird call. His eyes were never still, catching every movement in the sky.

He was off to kill a fox. Not for any thrill of the chase, or because he enjoys the kill. Simply, it's a fox, this is nesting time; the fox is in the wrong place at the wrong time and it needs to go. It's a job that needs doing, like fixing a fence or chopping wood. I've no doubt he'll get the job done, and done efficiently. Legally? I doubt he knows the meaning of the word.

I stood and watched as he strode off, puffing at that impossible stub, the terriers close at heel. He was as much a part of the countryside as the fox he was after.

It struck me that you can pass all the laws you like, educate any number of would-be gamekeepers about best practice and the approved methods for controlling this and doing that. But there will still be countless characters like this chap throughout the countryside. For them, there is only the natural law of A eats B eats C. They don't appear on Defra's radar; they're the nearest thing to a fox or a peregrine in human form (and probably equally popular with the local keepers!)

I'm not saying it's right or wrong that such people exist; they just do. No doubt organisations like Defra and the RSPB would like them controlled, like vermin. Or at the very least rounded up and re-educated. But of course you'd never find them, if they didn't want to be found. You might as well try to teach foxes to kill voles according to best practice.

I found the encounter uplifting, in a way I can't fully explain - like watching a bird of prey or a fox hunting.


Sooty said...

Funny thing is James first it is a great blog but probably find myself with the same thoughts as yourself and the same emotions,on the one hand respect these types immensely but on the other do not want them to kill things I like seeing which probably makes me as bad as he is,if that is how society sees him but like you say they cannot be controlled.

James Marchington said...

I think wider society would see him as a 'shooter' or at least a 'fieldsportsman' (more likely 'blood sports fanatic'!) but of course he's none of those, and outside the control of any shooting organisation. His ideas of the 'right' balance of species on 'his' patch are probably a bit different to mine and yours, but on balance even in modern terms like 'biodiversity' it's looking good - he's a big fan of the owls and hawks, for instance, apart from the odd individual that steps out of line. I suspect then it might meet with an accident. I used to think such characters were a dying breed, but maybe not. Funny thing is, if they came with wings and talons, they'd be on a red list somewhere!

Meconopsis said...

Take time to talk with him. Maybe he could teach you a few things the experts in the Mag know nothing about !

vicky said...

It would do a lot of people who make rules and laws good to meet men like this. As you say, his methods may not be PC, or even strictly legal but I've met several true 'countrymen' in my time and they all have a strict moral and ethical code of their own. Their methods may allow them to be more selective, culling a certain fox which causes problems rather than going after anything with a brush. He would, I'm sure be another of those country conundrums- a man with a deep love of nature, but who understands mans place in controlling it.

Meconopsis said...

I cut my teeth with a strange guy called Sid. Now Sid was one of lots of country guys in the area that had the local kids Badgering him to take them out to catch rabbits, hares or even show you how to get the Salmon out of a pool with a fly !!!!!!

Funny thing was the fly was always on the outside of the mouth not inside. The bailiffs watched us like hawks and could never understand how Sid always caught fish as they stood next to him and not another fisher would get a touch.

He showed me how to snare Deer and Pheasants.

Gin traps for Ducks where they fed.

By the time I was 11 I made a few pounds every week with my catch and with some of the money and a 3 mile bike ride I went on Sundays to buy The Shooting Times.

They were the days.