As many of you will know, last week a gamekeeper was convicted of offences relating to the misuse of an otherwise legal cage trap. Covertly filmed footage is a gift to television news producers. It may hoist a story on to a national stage, whether or not the underlying facts justify such exposure. Whatever you may think about the rumours swirling around this particular case, there can be no doubt that such events do huge damage to the public image of gamekeeping and gameshooting.

All our good work, all our conservation success stories, all our responsible stewardship ? all this is overturned in three minutes of relentlessly negative, peak time, national news bulletin. So many people work so hard to defend shooting against unjustified allegations ? how do they feel when theyswitch on their television to watch this sort of news. They feel gutted.

There is a bigger picture here. Given the surveillance technology available today, don?t for a moment think that anything anybody does in the countryside, at any time of the day or night, cannot be monitored. All of us who work in the countryside should ask ourselves this question: ?Would I be fine if what I am doing were to appear on national television??

Mistakes happen, of course. Innocent actions can be misinterpreted, and film can be edited. But then, there are also some genuine cases where people knowingly break the law. Let?s be clear: anybody who commits a criminal act in the countryside should realise that, sooner or later, they are bound to be challenged. It?s simply a matter of time. That is their risk, and potentially their own tragedy. After all, they stand to lose everything.

And here?s the kicker ? even on those occasions when they are not caught, wrong-doers must understand that the collateral damage they do to the rest of us, and our cause, is immense. The sad fact is that almost every discovery of a dead raptor or a destroyed nest, regardless of what actually happened, will be used against us. And no matter how hard we try to put such events into their proper context, as long as there is some real persecution, we face an uphill struggle.

Gamekeepers have a venerable status within the shooting world. They work hard in difficult conditions, for the benefit of the shooting community and the wider countryside. So when a keeper ends up at the centre of events that blacken the image of shooting, our dismay is all the greater.

Durham goes it alone?

Strange goings-on in County Durham. A chap who was having an inspection for his firearms certificate renewal told me that somebody from the local police force told him he cannot use an ordinary shotgun for shooting foxes. Instead, he was told, he must use a rifle, and a minimum of .22 centrefire at that.

When my informant told the man from Durham Constabulary that this was nonsense, he was again assured that shooting a fox with a shotgun was illegal. This applicant?s son happens to be a keeper in Yorkshire. Yet even when the professional had a go at trying to explain the legal position to the policeman, he got nowhere, apparently. Or rather, there is now a slight modification, I am told. It seems that the stated position now is that ?shooting foxes with a shotgun is illegal in County Durham?!

My informant said that the police representative in question is likeable and so he has no wish to offend him by arguing the point when it doesn?t directly affect his renewal. Moreover, when I last checked, Durham?s firearms licensing department had a good reputation. So, what is going on? Has County Durham declared independence? Is it now making up its own firearms laws?

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