Karl Oyston, the chairman of Blackpool Football Club, on keeping a busy social diary, introducing people to shooting and regenerating a country estate.
Robert Cuthbert: Has this been a typical season?
Karl Oyston: “Yes. We’ve done about 10 days so far. We’ve had two grouse days where we live at Meanley, in the Trough of Bowland, and another grouse day on a moor my wife has over at Darwen, near Blackburn. A day up at Queensbury Estates… Drumlanrig, the Duke of Buccleuch’s place, and a partridge day with a pal in Bronte country in West Yorkshire. Claughton Hall is where I was brought up. It’s not far from Lancaster; both Meanley and Claughton have grouse, partridge, pheasant and duck.”
RC: That is pretty close to a sporting paradise; the odd trout too?
KO: “No. We’re terrible with fish. It’s pretty rough, one-dimensional shooting, that’s what we do. That’s our social life in general, it always has been.”
RC: It must be wonderful to be able to play host to people who are curious about shooting and have never really witnessed it first hand.
KO: “Absolutely. There is nothing better than introducing new people to shooting. You come across a lot of fantastic people. I spent a lot of years beating and picking-up on local shoots and I think if I ever stopped shooting I’d go back to that. The whole link to nature and creation of habitat, the dog handling, it makes everything worthwhile.”
RC: Do many people from the world of football shoot?
KO: “Loads. There really are quite a few footballers and people within the sport who shoot from time to time: Theo Paphitis; David Sheepshanks, who used to be the chairman at Ipswich; and Rupert Lowe, who used to be in charge at Southampton – he’s a mad keen shooter. The late Nigel Doughty, who used to own Nottingham Forest, was very keen.”
RC: What about the beating and picking-up; who opened your eyes to all this?
KO: “I started going out shooting when I was six or seven with my father. When we moved to Claughton Hall, which at the time was 60-odd acres, we used to go sneaking about together shooting the odd pheasant and rabbit. I was probably a pain in the backside for him, running around and picking-up the birds he’d shot. Around about the mid- to late-1980s we expanded it to what it is now. Claughton Hall estate is now 3,000 acres. We have grown it over the last 20 years or so. We’ve regenerated dozens of miles of dry-stone walls, planted hedges and new woodland, created ponds, farmed to favour ground-nesting waders and grouse and just tried to turn it round in general. Where we live now at Meanley, my wife had gone through the same process with her late husband and pretty much mirrored what I’ve done at Claughton.”
RC: It must be rewarding to engineer the regeneration of an estate?
KO: “It is and it’s surprising how you can actually make a big impact in so little time. Take the two grouse days we’ve just shot at Meanley. This time about three years ago we did a joint venture with one of our neighbours, Robert Parker from Browsholme Hall. We had some unmanaged moorland on top of the hill with a few grouse on, so we did a deal and put the land together. We shoot it together and we’ve put a keeper on, Aaron, and he’s done wonders. In the first year he took over, the breeding count was 22 birds, although it may have been pairs. Anyway, it was a very low number. We shot two days this time and we shot 47 brace and 28 brace, which are the first two days we have shot.”
RC: Which guns do you use?
KO: “A Beretta SO3, and that stems back to when I was 17 or 18 when my father bought me a pair of SO3s.”
RC: Is it a family thing – do you have children who are involved?
KO: “Yes, we have eight children who all shoot to an extent; we have a few family days. I’m really fortunate; I met my wife through shooting, so I’m probably one of the luckiest men alive. At our peak we shot over 80 days a season together. She’s a bloody good shot as well.”
Karl Oyston is a supporter of A Soldier’s Journey – a-soldiers-journey.co.uk