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Tackling local politics

It is important that we challenge local authorities and their councillors when they overstep the mark on shooting, says BASC’s Conor O’Gorman.

BASC’s political, country and regional teams are constantly briefing and meeting with MPs and elected members of the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on a wide range of legislative issues relating to shooting and conservation. However, there is also a need, particularly in England, to engage with local councillors when barmy policy proposals impacting shooting come to the fore. 

Let’s look at some examples from the past few years: in 2019, Liverpool City Council voted to condemn the shooting of all animals as ‘barbaric’ after plans for a shooting exhibition in Liverpool were pulled by the council. Later that year, antis tried and failed to convince Birmingham and Solihull councils to cancel the Great British Shooting Show at the NEC in Birmingham. 

In 2020, Salford Council tried to pressurise RHS Bridgewater Garden to cease deer management on its Manchester site. In all these cases, BASC briefed the media, councils and individual councillors with relevant facts and figures on the positive benefits of sustainable shooting and conservation. 

Then there was the unsavoury case of Dave Taylor, a Green Party councillor for City of York Council who caused outrage when he welcomed the death of Jack Charlton because of the World Cup winner’s involvement in shooting and angling. We intervened, he was suspended, and he is now no longer a councillor. Things had quietened down at local authority level since then, but two new examples have arisen. 

Firstly, let’s look at Mole Valley District Council in Surrey. In July, a local gamekeeper alerted BASC to a motion submitted by two councillors to ban recreational shooting on any public or private land in the district and for the council to lobby landowners and other local authorities to the same aim. 

Felicity Winters, BASC regional officer for Surrey, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, sprung into action working with local shoots and supportive councillors to counter the ill-informed proposal, and in October the motion was rejected by the council. 

Felicity said: “Shooting is very important in Mole Valley culturally and economically and news of the motion was very distressing for everyone in the community, particularly those whose livelihoods depend on it. 

“Thankfully common sense prevailed, but we need to stay vigilant to those who oppose shooting and who seek to misinform local authorities with their agenda.” 

While the Mole Valley motion could easily have gone under the radar, there was no missing what happened at the September meeting of North Wales Police and Crime Panel. The BBC headlined with ‘Gun laws: Restrictions call after firearm ownership data’, and you would be forgiven for thinking the Government had just announced a ban. What had actually happened was that Chris Bithell, councillor for Flintshire County Council, had stated that people should have a certificate for every firearm they own, in a discussion about local firearms licensing data. 

It was a ridiculous suggestion, but it attracted press interest and embroiled North Wales Police in a controversy that was not of their own making. BASC has since met with the police and crime commissioner (PCC), his deputy and the head of firearms licensing. It was confirmed that there was no foundation for misreporting in the media insinuating that the PCC was lobbying for changes in firearms law. 

Simon Vann, BASC’s firearms officer for Wales, attended the meeting and he explained: “We had a lot of calls and emails from members concerned about what they were reading in the press. It was essential for us to sit down with North Wales Police to clarify matters and to further strengthen our relationships, which can only assist shooting and the rural communities. The meeting was positive and constructive, which bodes well for the future.” 

What about the infamous councillor who sparked all this off? Well, rather tellingly, he has yet to respond to our request for a meeting.