Sunday 30 January 2011

New airgun law - where did that come from?

A new airgun law comes into force on 10 February. You will be liable for a fine of up to £1000 if you don't lock up your airgun away from kids. Details here on the Home Office website. By kids I mean under-18s, and there's new government guidance on what they consider 'reasonable':

* store your airgun out of sight and separately from pellets
* use a robust, lockable cupboard and keep the keys separate and secure
* always store your airgun inside a house rather than in an out building, such as a garden shed
* never store a cocked or loaded airgun
* when using your airgun, keep it under close supervision and never leave it unattended

I can't argue with the stated aim of the new law, to prevent accidents and protect children. But is this any way to make firearms legislation? It's been slipped in the back door with no consultation that I was aware of - although the simultaneous publication of a supportive press release on BASC's website indicates they were involved in the process. It takes advantage of existing enabling legislation, so the minister just signs an order with no need for all that troublesome debate in parliament. I thought that was the New Labour way.

And how many children will it save? Frankly, without airgun licensing, this can only ever be enforced after the event. And anyone moronic enough to leave an airgun within reach of kids will find some other way to help them kill themselves - matches, petrol, kitchen knives, car keys (why not a law about locking up your car keys - how many kids are killed and injured that way each year?).

New government, same old rubbish attitude to guns, if you ask me.

AND ANOTHER THING... It occurs to me that this is a real danger for FAC and SGC holders - some of whom won't even have heard of it by the time their FEO next visits. FEO walks in, looks around, what's that propped up in the corner sir? Only an airgun. Hmm, got any grandchildren sir... Before you know it you've committed a firearms offence - and your shooting career is over.

With the press release coming out on 27 Jan, and the law coming into force on 10 Feb, there isn't even time for a monthly shooting magazine to tell its readers about the new law. As for those who don't read the shooting magazines - well, they may never find out.

Still, on the bright side the gunshops are rubbing their hands at the thought of all those cabinet sales!

Gratuitous cute puppy picture

This is Jess, my parents' new English springer spaniel pup. They drove to Staffordshire last weekend to pick her up - she seems to be settling in well and like all puppies is totally adorable. For puppy picture addicts, there are more like this on my flickr page.

Rope lead - fail!

This is what happens when you leave a young lab tied up with a rope slip lead!

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Harriers & grouse update

My post on harriers and grouse moors has already borne fruit, in that Tom Cameron kindly suggested I contact Steve Redpath at the University of Aberdeen's Centre for Environmental Sustainability. Steve has done plenty of work on the harrier/grouse conflict, and tells me he is determined to help find a solution.

"We are only going to move on if there is broad agreement about illegal killing and impact," he says. "There are various possible solutions to the problem, but we are only going to get there through dialogue and especially dialogue between the moderates on both sides, whilst isolating the extreme views." For the record, he states that "there is pretty compelling evidence from a variety of sources that illegal killing is going on and limiting harrier numbers on managed grouse moors".

Steve also warned me against writing off the raptor lobby as extremists, pointing out that they are as diverse as the shooting lobby, with a wide spread of views. And he pointed me in the direction of some of his published work on this subject - for instance the positive and forward-looking Hen harriers and red grouse: moving towards consensus? published in the Journal of Applied Ecology in 2009. He also pointed me to the Environment Council's Hen Harrier Dialogue.

Steve has given me plenty to think about, and plenty of homework to do - but I find it immensely encouraging that this sort of work is already going on towards a solution.

Over the next few days I hope to talk to several people at the sharp end, as it were, and discover what the conflict looks like from their perspective. Watch this space...

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Hen harriers - fear, loathing, and few facts

Hen harriers are in the news again. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that the WANE (Wildlife And Natural Environment) Bill is currently going through the Scottish Parliament, and various groups have identified it as their best chance of attacking sporting estates in general, and shooting in particular.

They're jumping at the opportunity to have the law rewritten in their favour - perhaps winning the 'vicarious liability' that they claim would solve everything (it wouldn't, but that's another story)

The more strident anti shooting/pro raptor voices are growing shriller, and we are seeing the carefully managed 'release' of 'suppressed' information which, it's claimed, provides scientific proof, no less, of widespread 'persecution' by gamekeepers threatening the very existence of an iconic bird of prey.

'Silence over hen harrier carnage' shrieks the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog, for instance. They point to 'damning evidence' presented in the leaked Hen Harrier Conservation Framework [word doc] which they claim demonstrates 'the indisputable link between hen harrier persecution and heather moorland that’s managed for red grouse shooting'.

Actually, it isn't, and it doesn't. The report brings no new evidence to light. Much of it is a round-up of previously published work - and if you look back at that previously published work, it's clear that evidence is actually very thin on the ground.

What the report mostly does, is sucks a finger, sticks it in the air, and says: 'Hmm, I bet there should be 2500 pairs of harriers round here, and actually we can only see 749. I blame the bastard gamekeepers.' That's not science, no matter how you dress it up - and dress it up the authors have, in a report that runs to 69 pages which have cost the taxpayer... well, perhaps someone would like to tell me?

In fact, the more I look at the published reports, papers, reviews and what-have-you, it becomes clear that they tend to emanate from a small group of indivduals with a vested interest in talking up the problem, some of whom have seemingly made a career out of taking public money to write yet more reports regurgitating their own and their mates' work.

Be that as it may, it doesn't prove anything one way or the other. No doubt people make a living out of mangling science in areas like education, policing and fire safety; it doesn't mean a problem doesn't exist.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to have a calm, rational converation about harriers. I am fascinated by harriers. I love to see them on the Isle of Skye, where I've been walking up grouse since - well, since I could walk actually, although I wasn't allowed to carry a gun until I was 12. Plenty of things have decimated the grouse there over the years; harriers aren't one of them, though I'm sure they take the odd chick.

When I'm out with my gun and I spot a harrier, I stand and stare, open mouthed, in awe. The idea of harming it couldn't be further from my mind. Perhaps if I ran a commercial driven grouse shoot my feelings would be different.

So, are grouse shooting estates slaughtering harriers wholesale? No matter how loud the bird-botherers shout, fact is the evidence is flimsy to say the least. My gut feeling is that some (highly commercial) shoots believe they can't afford to tolerate harriers, and either encourage them to move on, or kill them. But I have no proof one way or the other - something that the anti-shooting lobby find hard to believe.

I had a long chat with the RSPB's Mark Avery at last year's CLA Game Fair. It soon became clear that he believed there was a conspiracy of silence over 'persecution'. I got the impression (no doubt he'll correct me if I'm wrong) that he imagined that I, as the editor of a shooting magazine, must know all about some organised campaign of persecution, but was simply refusing to admit it. I'm not at all sure I convinced him otherwise.

Well, I don't know. I don't know a lot of things. For instance, I don't know if keepers kill one, none, or a thousand harriers a year. I don't know whether habitat is a factor explaining the anomalies in harrier distribution on grouse moors vs moorland that isn't managed for grouse. To my simple mind, it seems obvious that heather burned in strips will provide cover for small prey species, which could make it harder for a harrier to make a living. But try asking that of the self-appointed 'experts' - you won't finish the sentence before they drown you out with shouts of 'persecution'.

If big grouse shoots are killing harriers, I want to know about it. And I want to see it stopped. Not because of some Marxist-inspired agenda to take over the countryside in the name of 'the people'. But because it's going to destroy the way of life that I know and love.

Perhaps my contacts and connections within the world of shooting will help me to find out what others have failed to discover. We shall see. I intend to go looking, and I'll report what I find - for good or bad.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Shooting clays - with golf balls!

Reader Bill Miller sent me the link to this video. Enjoy!

Thursday 6 January 2011

Shooting mags "worse than porn"

Has your local newsagent decided that shooting magazines should be X-rated? Gary Redman's local branch of WHSmith appears to have done just that. He shops at the Harpur Centre in Bedford, and reports that he hunted high and low for his favourite shooting mags. He writes:
"After 10 minutes or so I gave up and decided to ask a shop assistant. I was somewhat confused, as I have bought your magazines there previously.
I was then shown to the rear of the store, some distance from all the other magazines shelves, to find that all shooting magazines are now kept behind a customer services counter where they cannot be directly accessed by browsers. You have to go behind the counter, i.e. into the staff / serving area, to get to them.

The desk is located in a narrow part of the building not regularly used by large numbers of shoppers. Suffice to say, if I were a new reader to shooting magazines, I would have assumed they weren't stocked by the store. Without making the effort to ask I would have gone away empty handed.

So, it would appear that shooting magazines of all types are now considered less acceptable than pornographic publications, which after all have only been moved to the top shelf! I find this completely outrageous. Are WHS suggesting members of the public shouldn't browse your publications in case they are encouraged to run amok with a gun? What next? Perhaps they will soon be asking you to cover them in plain wrapping so that the covers can't cause offence!"
Does your local newsagent display shooting magazines proudly alongside fishing, photography and the rest? Or are they hidden away from the public gaze? I'd be really interested to hear what the situation is like around the country - and if you can get a photo (perhaps with your mobile phone) of any displays, so much the better. They probably can't arrest you for it!

Hunters welcome!

Seen over the A361 near Tiverton...

No, not really - it's a small town in the US, where "hunter" isn't automatically a dirty word (yet). Thanks to David Taylor, the Countryside Alliance's new Shooting Campaigns Manager, who took it when he was in the States over the New Year.

Read his views on the different attitudes to gun legislation here and there, in next month's issue of Sporting Shooter.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

How to catch a mouse - without a trap

"There's a mouse in the house, what can I do?" It was my daughter Emma, visiting her boyfriend Steve in North London.

I could lend her a trap next time she came home - I've got several types to choose from. But she wanted it gone pronto.

OK says I, have you got a vase, or a water jug, and a piece of wood? Er, yes...

Well, put some peanut butter in the bottom of the jug, put it near where you've seen the mouse, and lean a piece of wood against it for the mouse to use as a ramp.

"That'll never work, will it?" says Emma. Two days later...

It's nice to be proved right now and again! Incidentally, this is why you should never throw away old bottles and such in the countryside. Mice and voles go in and can't get out.

And if you're wondering, Steve released the mouse "back into the wild", as they say in all the best wildlife programmes.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Antis chucking in the towel

Fancy that! In the last couple of days, I've learned that two of shooting's most vociferous adversaries are moving on.

Douglas Batchelor, chief exec of the League Against Cruel Sports, has announced he is retiring this summer.

And Mark Avery, conservation director of the RSPB, let slip in a recent blog post that he will leave the bird-botherers in April. Just in time to apply for Batchelor's job perhaps? No, I don't think Avery is bonkers enough for them.

So does this mean shooting will get an easy ride, free from polemical rants about how we're all bloodthirsty psychopaths with a penchant for throwing toxic substances around the environment and persecuting anything with a hooky-beak?

I'm guessing not.

Monday 3 January 2011

Where are all the pigeons?

A group of farmers on a farming forum have been discussing their pigeon problems - or lack of them. It's hardly scientific, but I thought I'd make some blobs on a map of the UK to mark the places they're reporting pigeons. The map above is the result. I don't think it tells us much, but it did vaguely remind me of the classic U-shaped decoy pattern, with the landing zone centred around Northamptonshire!

With all the clever web tools available nowadays, it ought to be possible to create a live pigeon map, updated with reports from the field, to show which way the birds are heading. Maybe Google Maps has an answer? Suggestions and technical help gratefully received...

Talking of techy webby stuff, if you ever need to look up a gunshop, try the excellent dealer locator at Highland Outdoors.

Foxes scrapping in the street

My younger daughter, Vicky, came across these two foxes having a scrap in the middle of the road in suburban Surbiton. She says they took no notice of the car, and at times she could have reached out and touched them.

Foxes in this area seem to be getting bolder all the time - there's one that hangs round the carpark at Waitrose in Esher, which expects you to walk round it, rather than get out of your way!

Various friends have told me they stopped feeding foxes in their gardens after the newspaper reports of fox attacks on children last year - but they felt sorry for them in the recent hard weather and have started putting food out again.

Bracken's first pheasant

We took Bracken, the 15 month old lab, to her first proper driven pheasant shoot today - and she behaved impeccably! She sat patiently but attentively at the peg (on her rather girly pink and white rope lead) and didn't pull or whine.

When we got the chance, we sent her for her first pheasant retrieve - this nice cock, which fell in plain view an easy distance away. And she went straight out and brought it back!

OK it wasn't the most demanding task, but that wasn't the point. We wanted her first introduction to driven game to be a calm and positive affair. There will be plenty of time for more adventurous work later.

As it happens, this was also my first pheasant this season too. I know readers like to think I'm constantly swanning around getting shooting invitations left right and centre. The truth is, it doesn't happen like that, and I rarely have the time to spare anyway. Still, it was great to get out and enjoy a modest driven day, courtesy of my mum who gave up her gun for the day. Thanks mum!

For the record, the total bag was 56 pheasants, a pigeon and a rabbit, between 8 guns. I shot just over my share, at 8 pheasants and the pigeon. The weather was dull and chilly, while the company was quite the opposite. It's a small, friendly shoot near Horsham in Sussex - just the sort of shoot I like best.