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Best school days ever

Conor O’Gorman looks at the work BASC is doing to introduce young people to shooting and conservation, not least via Scouts and Guides.

Many readers will have grown up around fieldsports, but most British children will never get to experience that. Our world is as alien to them as Minecraft is to us. WAGBI (Wildfowlers’ Association of Great Britain and Ireland) morphed into BASC and has long been introducing young people to shooting, through Young Shot events, with wildfowling clubs leading the way on this. 

Over the past 20 years, BASC has tried many different approaches to introducing young people to shooting. There are still Young Shot events run by BASC staff and volunteers across the UK. They offer a range of experiences from general introduction to shooting and progression days to specialist themes including game, deer, pigeons, grey squirrels and, of course, wildfowling. 

BASC’s coaching presence at game fairs and other country shows has also continued to diversify and grow, offering opportunities for young people to try airgunning and clay pigeon shooting. We have also introduced thousands of youngsters to the sport by way of our shooting simulators. 

There are lots of other interesting things going on, so let’s take a look at some of those. My favourite is BASC coaching at the Scout and Guide Jamborees. When the idea was first mooted a decade ago, it seemed like pie in the sky. 

However, in 2016 more than 5,000 Scouts and Girl Guides were introduced to clay shooting by BASC coaches at the week-long Essex International Scouts Jamboree and were taught basic shooting principles in what was BASC’s largest ever shooting line. Suffice to say that the logistics of this were massive but it all went to plan. In fact, it was so successful that dozens of Scouts and Girl Guide groups were soon in touch, wanting advice on taking up shooting as a sport. 

Since then, we have continued to attend international jamborees, coaching around 5,000 young people at each event. The coaching lines are very popular and were voted best onsite activity at the Lincolnshire Jamboree in 2022. 

Most Scouts and Girl Guides will never take up shooting, but few will forget the positive experience they had of safely handing and firing a gun. That’s a powerful thing and could not happen without our sponsors, dedicated training team and all the volunteer coaches. 

Another amazing project is Let’s Learn Moor, which has grown from small beginnings to become what we call “the UK’s largest upland classroom”. It was established by BASC with Regional Moorland Groups in 2017. Events take place in July in the North York Moors, Nidderdale, Calderdale, the Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District, North Pennines and the Forest of Bowland. They are coordinated by Countryside Learning and BASC, and are hosted by the Regional Moorland Groups, plus over 50 partner organisations. 

More than 10,000 children from a wide range of schools have now learned about the importance of moorland management and the role of sustainable shooting in that. What a great result. 

Then there is the fantastic BASC to School, our latest initiative in which we get into schools and colleges and other educational settings to teach young people about the countryside, land management and the importance of shooting to rural life and conservation. 

Face to face 

We started in 2022 with a target of teaching 25,000 young people a year but reached 31,776. Last year we smashed it again with face-to-face engagement with 45,141 young people, and of this number 11,792 were treated to wild food, a key element in promoting sustainable shooting. 

We are also doing residential events, offering scholarships and sponsoring student awards. There are myriad opportunities for us to introduce more young people to shooting and conservation, but we are limited by the resources available to us. 

I guess this is where we can all help and it does not have to involve guns. It could be a conservation event inviting local families to your shoot, a free guided walk in your woods, or perhaps offering a talk to local schools and colleges.