Here?s a parable for our time. It relates to the community woodland near the Northumberland village of Stocksfield. This woodland, provided by Allendale Estates, has a web of permissive footpaths, a permissive bridleway and a free car park. The Forestry Commission provides some grants, but the land is private. Dogs are welcome, but must be kept under control.
This community woodland is cherished by the locals. It also attracts users from farther afield, some of whom drive considerable distances in order to use the woodland to walk their dogs. Unfortunately, one of these visitors seems to have misunderstood the situation. Near the end of the last shooting season the local weekly paper, the splendid Hexham Courant, carried this letter:
As an animal lover and dog walker, I have been very concerned by the shooting of gamebirds next to a much loved country walk at Stocksfield Community Woodland. Recently, a shoot was taking place in full view of walkers. I was concerned for many reasons ? one of them being that pellets could stray and injure not only walkers, but also their dogs.
Many of the dogs walked at Stocksfield have been spooked and have run, causing distress to both owner and dog. The whole idea of these walks is to allow us a place in which our beloved pets and families can have freedom to enjoy nature and to exercise.
She ended with: I find the whole experience of seeing gamebirds that I have watched all year being killed in a shooting frenzy, all for someone else?s pleasure, very barbaric. It was signed Rachel Smith.
A wonderful response came from a local resident a couple of editions later: Given that this land is privately owned, the vast majority of us who exercise our dogs there consider it a privilege to be able to do so. We also accept that the shooting of gamebirds has been part and parcel of country life for centuries. Indeed, there are many small rural communities and businesses in Northumberland that would struggle to survive without the income generated by shooting parties.
She concluded with: ?there is one genuine cause for complaint and this is the small number of regular dog walkers who feel it unnecessary to pick up their dogs? faeces and deposit it in the bin provided. I wonder whether these people pick up in their own gardens? Virginia Bunyan.
A rational response
A week later there was yet another excellent letter, this time from the owner of the land near the community woodland.
Firstly, the gamebirds Rachel enjoys watching would not be there if our syndicate did not rear and release them in the first place. While we hope to shoot a good number of those birds released, many more survive, as evidenced by the birds now populating the local woods, including my own.
On the question of safety, our syndicate notifies all locals, including police and parish council, of our intended shoot dates. We don?t have to do this; we choose to do it out of respect for other people enjoying the countryside. As for pellets straying, spent shot has a limited range and I can assure Rachel that there is no chance of pellets reaching anywhere near the community woods. We are simply too far away from that area.
I own and live on the land over which we shoot. Rachel appears to live several miles away. Notwithstanding this, we, including walkers enjoying the community woods, are all pursuing perfectly legitimate activities that are followed by many more like-minded and sane individuals across the UK.
Rachel may not agree with what I do but I?m sure that if we respect each other?s space, we can all enjoy the countryside together. Andrew Lapping
Both Ms Bunyan and Mr Lapping put the case beautifully. But consider this ? how might things have gone if the land in question had been owned by the State?
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