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Raising the standard

?What?s in it for us and won?t it mean extra work?? For some, this is the inevitable reaction to the introduction of something as pioneering as the new Game Shoot Standards Assurance Scheme. At its launch, to great acclaim at the CLA Game Fair in July this year, the scheme was praised as a triumph of co-operation across the shooting world. It was introduced to a fanfare; hailed as the self-regulating safeguard shooting needs to secure its own future. Essentially, the scheme transfers the principles of the Code of Good Shooting Practice to an accountable set of assessment criteria by which UK shoots can be judged.

Now the hubbub has died down, the presenting of the Shoot Assurance Scheme to its target audience has begun in earnest. Selling the benefits of the scheme to shoot owners and gamekeepers who, in its infancy, can see potential piles of paperwork and prying eyes as an obvious downside, is the work of the major shooting associations. They?ve done a good job so far ? interest in the scheme has been phenomenal, with reprints of the Shoot Assurance Scheme handbook now on order.

The first shoots to go through the scheme are in the process of being assessed at present. Going out on the ground and visiting these trailblazing shoots to see if they fulfil what is expected of them is the job of accreditors from CMI Certification Ltd ? an independent inspection and certification company that manages other schemes, including the Freedom Food Scheme and the Red Tractor Scheme.

Training day

In preparation for the roll-out of the scheme, earlier this month a training event was kindly hosted at the Duke of Rutland?s Belvoir Castle estate, in Leicestershire, for the 40 or so self-employed accreditors involved ? the ones who will be making appointments soon to visit shoots wanting to join over the coming years. Brief introductions around the room showed that all of them have an interest in shooting, with involvement ranging from straightforward syndicate shoot membership to many years as shoot managers and captains. Years of experience with similar land-based schemes add to the accreditors? evident suitability.

The day was as much about familiarising the accreditors with their new role as it was outlining the objectives partner organisations have for the scheme. Early on, discussion made it plain BASC, the Countryside Alliance, the Country Land & Business Association (CLA), and the rest of the partner organisations have no intention of focusing purely on applications from ?elite? shoots. The scheme is as much targeted at the biggest business-orientated shoot as it is the small family shoot that occasionally lets days. The cost of being assessed and joining the scheme is not crippling either, ranging from £125 for shoots of less
than 500 acres or 1,500 birds, up to £395 for the biggest estates of more than 1,500 acres
or 15,000 birds.

?The first year is very much a pilot year,? said BASC?s director of shooting standards, Richard Thorne. ?It?s about moving people forward, taking them on.? The CLA?s head of rural economy, Oliver Harwood, agreed. ?We don?t want to write off a perfectly good shoot for want of the precise letter of the law,? he told the assembled assessors. So long as a shoot?s intentions are good, it is unlikely to fail to be assured because of a minor transgression. A typical example given was that of shoot transport. For example, a shoot would not fail to become assured for the lack of a handrail in the beaters? wagon. That type of easily resolved issue would be highlighted for future compliance, however.

A simple task to perform

Ease of application is the key. The thousands of shoots that have already requested information on the scheme have received handbooks and checklists to make the process as straightforward as possible. For example, shoot managers have tick boxes to work through that ask questions such as, Does the shoot make sure everyone involved in the field on a shoot day is properly briefed as to safety and conduct?

Too much like hard work?

Will the scheme be laborious to prepare for? One of the biggest complaints among those present at Belvoir Castle was that those seeking to join similar schemes typically wait until the accreditor?s visit before doing any preparation work. A certain amount of planning work is required, but the intention is not to dissuade applicants ? well-run shoots should find nearly all of the paperwork required already in their filing cabinet.

One man who?s already been through the process is Belvoir?s headkeeper Malcolm Partridge, who organised his documentation in advance of the accreditors? visit. ?It took me only two or three hours to put the paperwork in order,? he told the group. ?I realise we are on a big estate with all the benefits that brings in terms of organisation, but there?s no reason why the typical shoot can?t sit down in advance and put this all together just as easily.?

What?s in it for you?

Aside from a gentle paperwork audit, how do shoots stand to gain? There has been much talk of accreditation logos and web listings for member shoots, which would help the shoots add value to their let days and supplies of game. However, for Oliver Harwood, that sort of advantage is a long way off and secondary to securing the sport?s prospects. ?This is about the protection of shooting. It isn?t about whether you will get a better price for your bird out of your gamedealer. These are things that might happen in the future,? he said. ?First and foremost, shoots should be joining for their children and the sport they want them to enjoy.?

Accreditors will be going out to visit shoots with the emphasis on examining with a fair balance between meeting the criteria laid down and recognising the fact that, for shooters, such a scheme is an unfamiliar thing. The Shoot Assurance Scheme is about improvement of shoots, not simply pass or fail. That isn?t to say accreditors will be lenient, but they aren?t looking to catch shooters out either. The purpose is to assess the professionalism of those shoots that want to join the scheme.

In practice, any shoot where bad practice is rife is highly unlikely to have even heard of the Shoot Assurance Scheme. However, if they want to drag themselves up by the bootstraps, the scheme?s in place to help them.