European elections reveal a promising level of support for shooting in Brussels, reports Jeffrey Olstead

Forget about which party lost or gained in the European elections. The big winner was shooting. Out of the 73 MEPs elected a majority, 39 say they are broadly or very supportive of shooting, and that’s probably an underestimate.

This declared support is thanks to the magnificent response of the shooting community to BASC’s mass lobbying initiative. We set up a dedicated website and monitoring system and contacted members urging them to ask all their candidates two simple questions:

  • Do you support shooting conducted according to the law and codes of practice?
  • If elected would you join the Hunting Intergroup? (This is an EU institution similar to the all-party groups we have at Westminster.)

Hundreds of shooters from across the UK joined in this campaign and the result was staggering – they forwarded to BASC several thousand replies from candidates. And the candidates themselves were suitably impressed, in general they are not used to being lobbied, yet one told us that he received more than 50 requests for his position on shooting and another received more than a hundred emails.

Of the 73 MEPs who were actually elected, 43 replied to our questions and only three were anti-shooting – two Greens and one Labour. Even more encouraging is the fact that eight of the MEPs are current supporters of the Intergroup and at least nine new members have said they are interested in joining the group.

This means we have a powerful voice in Brussels, but it also demonstrates how effective the shooting community can be as a grassroots lobby. By setting up an election website, BASC enabled all shooters to email candidates and forward their responses. One crucial aspect of this approach is that it was not banging the drum for any particular party. Our stance has always been to avoid any entanglement with party politics. We welcome all politicians, provided they support shooting. But the lobbying shouldn’t end with the election result. If you go to the BASC website you will see a list of all the newly-elected MEPs and details of their position on shooting. It will be hugely beneficial to our sport if you email or write to your representative. Where they are supportive, congratulate them on election, where their views are unknown, seek clarification, where they are anti-shooting, urge them to think again.

You are certainly going to need these facts when next year’s general election campaign begins. BASC is already preparing for this. Once again, there will be a dedicated website through which you will be able to contact your candidates, discover their opinions and effectively lobby them on behalf of shooting.

Strength in numbers

If we are honest, we must admit that as a group shooters have seldom shown their real strength in numbers, but as the European election has just revealed, that is changing. Shooting is finding its voice and BASC is determined to ensure that it is heard. So let’s see these Euro elections as a warm-up for 2015, that’s when we will really have to make an impact

Don’t for a moment think, however, that the EU is a bit of a side-show. Only in the last few weeks a threat to the use of Larsen traps was thwarted. There were moves to ban the use of live decoy birds. We supported FACE – the European Federation of Associations for Hunting & Conservation – in their effective opposition and the proposal was rejected.

It was, of course, in response to the EU Birds Directive that the system of general licences for pest control was introduced in the UK. It was a very simple concept – allow pest species to be controlled for particular reasons, such as crop protection or public health, and list the acceptable methods of control. Gradually that has become increasingly complex with layers of bureaucracy that confuse everybody. Natural England’s latest proposal for changes to the licences runs to 48 pages.

Apart from keeping a few Natural England staff in employment it is hard to see any benefits to these changes. But before you go out to shoot pigeons that are destroying a rape crop, you might be required to read and understand 10 pages of legal jargon, and be ready to quote them if you are challenged. Needless to say, BASC has put in a detailed response to the consultation and we can only hope that common sense prevails.

Unfortunately, the Scottish proposals to license airguns suggest that common sense can be an endangered species in some corridors of power. Despite the fact that airgun crime has decreased by 75 percent in recent years, or that the police force will likely be overwhelmed by airgun owners applying for licences, the Scottish government seems determined to press ahead with its proposal.

So we have to accept that sometimes the voice of shooting will be ignored for political reasons, but in the European elections we have demonstrated that we do have a voice, and a powerful one at that. Well done to all the shooters who took the trouble to lobby their candidates – you got a result! And I am certain that in 2015 we can do it once again.