SHOOTING WON”T go out witha ban, but it may well be slowly smothered to death. After spending over 700 parliamentary hours debating the hunting ban, it is unlikely MPs have the collective stomach for an outright attack on shooting.
The League Against Cruel Sports and AnimalAid have declared intentions to target commercial game shooting, but still appear to be focusing resources on pursuing hunts. So, if the animal rights groups and zealous backbenchers present no immediate danger, why does every farmer, land manager, gamekeeper and shooter have a feeling of unease? In my opinion, the real danger to shooting comes from ill-considered and heavy-handed legislation.
The government”s 2001 manifesto pledge “We have no intention whatsoever of placing restrictions on the sports of angling and shooting” begins to look a little thin when one considers the volley of consultations and regulations affecting it both as a sport and as a pest control method.
The farmers in the field protecting their crops, the couple of friends out rough shooting, the gamekeeper; these would have been the people open to prosecution had the government not backtracked last week on their changes to the general licences to take or kill pests such as pigeons and crows.
In May, areas of the upper north west and the north east will be the next regions to open access land to walkers in the latest implementation phase of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Shoot managers, now more than ever, need to consider how the public may come into accidental contact with a shoot, especially since access land can be entered at any point on its perimeter.
In the 2000 Rural White Paper, the government stated that all policies would be assessed to ensure that they did not have a significantly different impact on those living and working in the countryside. But The Home Office patently failed to consider last year how the many proposals in their consultation on firearms controls could affect the use of guns as essential tools in the countryside. DEFRA minister Alun Michael said “There wasn”t as much discussion as there should be before the proposals were published”. Never mind government departments not talking to each other, earlier this year DEFRA published a handbook on cross-compliance which mistakenly excluded the Glorious Twelfth from the grouse season.
Even changes to legislation that appear, on the whole, to have a positive impact on shooting still need careful scrutiny by independent expert bodies. For example, the government”s review of the Game Acts should modernise these Acts and enable game to be sold as a healthy food all year round. Let”s not forget, though, that their principle function is to prevent poaching and the need to have such laws remains.
The combined effect of these regulations, were they to come in unchecked, would be to make shoot managers and gamekeepers jump through so many hoops that the costs of the sport would rise considerably. It is ironic that a sport enjoyed by more than a million people a year, a genuinely inclusive sport, could become increasingly and prohibitively expensive.
How do we tackle this stream of legislation aimed at shooting? By providing evidence of shooting”s economic, environmental and social contribution; by conversing with the politicians and opinion formers; and by squarely facing animal welfare concerns such as those being voiced by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee advising on the draft Animal Welfare Bill. But, most importantly, by never reducing our vigilance and scrutiny of legislation.
We have seen that it is ultimately up to the non-governmental organisations to ensure the rural interest is not ignored in policy making.
We must continue to consider how each proposal, at EU and UK level, may affect shooting and continue to pressure government to correct the mistakes, omissions and misunderstandings in the rules and regulations governing shooting.
I can promise that the CLA will remain vigilant on behalf of its members.