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.