The captain of a shooting syndicate on National Trust land in Surrey has told Shooting Times that the decision not to renew the shoot?s lease was based on the personal prejudice of the estate?s management.

Andy Courtney, leaseholder of gameshooting rights at Polesden Lacey, near Dorking, is also critical of the Trust for not challenging the decision of the estate?s ?ill-informed? general manager, he told Shooting Times.

He said: ?The reasons they are using to terminate the shoot are disingenuous and display a disgraceful contempt for a shooting community that has fulfilled a beneficial role on the estate for generations.

?To my mind this makes the Trust unequivocally antishooting, and anyone who supports country sports ? and shooting in particular ? should think very hard before giving a single penny to such an organisation.?

Andy has leased the shooting rights at Polesden Lacey for over a decade, and has been part of the pheasant shooting syndicate for 30 years. The syndicate, which dates back to Victorian times, is a small, traditional shoot with, said Andy, an ?impeccable safety record?. But last month, Polesden Lacey?s general manager Andrea Selley told this magazine that the shoot?s activities were ?incompatible? with increased public use of the estate.

She cited figures showing that visitor numbers to Polesden Lacey?s gardens have grown from 100,000 per year in 1977, when the shoot?s licence was first issued, to around 260,000 today. However, Andy believes the numbers are entirely misleading as shooters don?t go anywhere near the estate?s gardens, the house or the car parking areas.

He said: ?The increased number of visitors is limited almost entirely to those areas ? and then mostly at weekends in the summer months, when we are not permitted to shoot. In winter, these numbers fall right off to almost nothing. ?The shoot operates over two areas, remote from the public areas of the estate. These are tenanted farmland to the north, to which the public has no general access, and vast woods across a valley to the south ? well away from the public areas and which see few, if any, visitors during shoot days. Far from being incompatible with other estate users, our activities are seldom noticed or even heard.

?If Ms Selley, in the six or so years she has been the estate manager, had even once attended one of our gameshooting days she would realise the futility of claiming we are incompatible with other estate users.

?If she claims, as she does, that the estate is expected to become busier in the future, then the syndicate would be only too pleased to discuss safety issues with her ? as and when they materialise into anything worthy of concern.? Andy believes that Ms Selley?s decision is based on a dislike of the principles of gameshooting, rather than issues of safety or incompatibility with other visitors to the estate.

He said: ?Her knowledge and experience of shooting and its associated activities seem absurdly lacking for someone entrusted with such a position within the National Trust.

?Her attempts to employ outside vermin shooters ? having previously put a stop to decades of safe and efficient vermin control by my syndicate members ? resulted in an incident that brought the wrath of the Health and Safety Executive down, so she certainly has reason to seek safety in her ignorance by seeing us gone. She hangs her hat on her knowledge that the hierarchy within the National Trust will not overrule her,? said Andy. ?I have tried to go higher and found this to be the case, so the real blame must be placed at the feet of the organisation, rather than one individual.?

Countryside traditions

Peter Nixon, the Trust?s head of conservation, has repeatedly denied allegations that his organisation is antishooting. In an interview with Shooting Times in February, following the termination of the lease of a syndicate on Northumberland?s Wallington estate, he said that the Trust ?understands the importance of countryside traditions?.

Andy is unconvinced. And with just three months to go before Polesden Lacey?s shooting community disappears forever, he believes that shooters on National Trust land around the country should fear for their future.

?We are not taking this seriously enough.? he said. ?Even the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, which once had my unquestionable loyalty, dismisses this simply as a landlord?s right to refuse to renew a lease.

?Tell that to our sons and daughters and grandchildren who grew up to be proudly responsible and a credit to the community because they were part of something special that the National Trust now regards with disdain.

?This will destroy a community that has seen generations grow up into responsible adulthood within the traditions and lawful pursuits of the countryside.?