Opinion: A pigeon plan to please Natural England

There is an awful lot of argument and discussion going around about Natural England’s “consultation” on the “shoo-before-you-shoot” bird control policy.

With perfect timing, I am pleased to present my Natural England-approved (NEA) pigeon shooting technique. Time spent planning your day’s shooting is very important. There are those who approach pigeon shooting with military obsession: They spend days reconnoitring the ground, mapping flight lines with respect to wind direction, consulting tide times, ley lines and whether Mars is in Uranus.

They’ll be out in the field pre-dawn, rigging fantastically effective hides using the latest hi-tech camouflage netting.

NEA shooting involves a decision, usually made late morning, or after a lunchtime pint in the Jolly Flowerpots, to pop out in the afternoon and see “if there are any birds about”. The hide will be a hole in the hedge, with next-to-no camouflage, or an old bale hide that was placed inconveniently (for the sprayerman, anyway) right on a tramline. The bale hide will be nowhere near flight lines, and will be cold, slightly manky and open to the freezing north-easterly. The bales will be too sodden for any rebuild. The floor of the hide will be completely free of empty cases – a guide to how well sited it is.

Decoys are crucial. Perfectly flocked decoys and “whirlybird” machines are definitely not NEA. A dozen aged, cracked plastic decoys with grey paint peeling off, and set out in a goodish horseshoe shape, but facing 180deg in the wrong direction (as I did for decades until I spotted my error in a book) is far more NEA.

Hardware is important. I shot for many years with a tightly-choked trap gun and Eley Super Trap cartridges – the ones with Jackie Stewart on the box. This combo is fully NEA – at decoy ranges the chance of the shot pattern connecting are minimal – and if it does hit, there’s nothing to pick up.

Which brings me to the next important bit of kit: the dog. Many serious, non-NEA shots will have a faithful dogbot at their side, sitting motionless until the merest hint of command, at which it will laser its way to the fallen bird and laser its way back. I had an NEA flatcoat/Groenendael-cross, which barked. And barked and barked and barked. Fire a shot and it would barrel its way out of the hide, barking, chaotically zig-zag its way over the nearest 8ha, barking, and then pick up something – anything. That’s why the decoys were knackered.

So, there you have the complete NEA package. After you’ve spent a long day (or half-day) in the field, the local pigeon population will be totally unscathed. I suppose there is a chance that the world’s most stupid pigeon might just possibly stray away from a flight line, ignore the warning signs given out by the crap decoy pattern, somehow fail to notice the large black dog barking loudly enough to wake the dead, and head down towards the hide. If it then just happened to stray into the path of 32g of 7½, then it would be unbelievably unlucky as well as stupid.

So everyone’s happy. Apart from the unluckiest pigeon ever, no bird is harmed. No lead has been used. The dog has been exercised. You’ve got out of the office/tractor for the afternoon. All the pigeons are safe, scoffing next door’s crops. They are now his problem. Farmers would call this approach selfish, buy hey, it’s Natural England’s way.

Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.

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