Tom Sykes reflects on why he believes fieldsports is the best pastime but that people involved in it need to spread a positive message
Fieldsports means so much to so many people. I never cease to find it amazing how diverse it can be. For many, it is a hobby that gives us something to look forward to on days off, for others it is a way of life. One thing that all types seem to have in common is the passion we have for our wonderful pastime and our desire to see it thrive and prosper.
After the disruption to life caused by Covid, I found myself appreciating the social benefits of shooting post-lockdowns. The banter on a shoot day, be it in the gunline or beaters’ trailer, is something I had taken for granted. Working primarily from home, Charlie and I spend the majority of our lives with only each other and the dogs for company. The days beating with the gang on the shoot provide us with much-needed human interaction. I have had the privilege to join many beating teams across the country and the common denominator is the camaraderie.
Most beaters’ trailers are bubbling with jokes, anecdotes and more than a little leg-pulling. Humour is also rife in the gunline, primarily focused on shooting performances. This spirit found throughout the shooting world is much-needed after the isolation of the past couple of years. (Read more here on the golden rules of beating on a shooting day).
As much as the shoot-day banter provides fantastic social interaction, many solitary aspects of shooting provide different experiences and benefits. I often shoot alone or simply with a dog in tow. Days spent sitting waiting for crows or out on the foreshore are a great way to unwind. The modern world is hectic, the communication non-stop, but sitting on the saltings in the dark, waiting for the sun to creep over the horizon, gives me a fantastic opportunity to relax and reflect. In these moments, the hustle and bustle of life seems a million miles away and the joys of nature can be enjoyed as the world comes to life. We all need days like these to stop and appreciate the beauty of the natural world.
Observing wildlife can be simply watching a wren bobbing from branch to branch in a hedge as you wait for pigeons. I love to settle into an area and let the world come alive as there is always something interesting to watch. Woodland songbirds can be a delight to observe and to listen to the joyous songs they sing. I find these moments of relaxation the best time to gain inspiration for projects or problem solving some of the things in my life. It isn’t just about pulling the trigger but the absorption of the great outdoors and an appreciation of our natural landscapes that often provide the most satisfaction.
Out and about
Fieldsports enthusiasts will brave most weather thrown at us and are rarely deterred by inclement forecasts. That said, like a lot of people I have encountered
recently, my fitness levels have dropped over the past few years. Perhaps we can, in part, blame the restrictions of Covid for people seeming to be a little bit out of
shape, but it is ultimately up to us to get out and about. And fieldsports is a fantastic way to keep fit whatever the activity – be it on a moor grouse beating or a more gentle glide through woodland after a roe.
They all help keep us fit as well as getting us out in the fresh air. I for one would certainly take a brisk walk in the country with a gun over my shoulder than a session in a gym any day.
I have a small pack of dogs that love it as much as I do. Every dog seems to know when we are planning on going shooting and remain glued to our sides for fear of being left behind. I often trip up over Goose as I rummage for gear in the workshop. He is typically right behind me, which usually results in a comical dancing act as I try to remain on my feet and he sheepishly bolts out of the way. (Want to know how to teach your gundog to walk at heel, or how do you control a headstrong gundog? Click here).
Being out with the dogs adds to the bond between man and beast. Barney soon took to beating and has become a cracking young dog in the beating line. Our relationship has also blossomed as he has started his working career.
One thing that seems more apparent than ever is we must defend our sport and way of life. There doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by without another threat or attack, usually based on false information. We all have a duty to do our bit for fieldsports and help protect it for future generations. The more people get involved in projects related to fieldsports and conservation the more it will help turn the tide of opinion, especially when young people take part.
We must not be shy in highlighting the many positives in our way of life and be robust in discrediting the lies and half-truths told about us. For example, many moorland groups that have sprung up on social media have helped to combat the fake news that our moors are barren of wildlife other than grouse. Anyone who has spent time on or around a moor knows that this is utter nonsense. I believe that we all need to highlight our work and love for the countryside to fellow shooters and, more importantly, the general public.
The local community pages on Facebook can be used to positive effect. We can post examples of the success of nest tubes, bird boxes, cover crops, wildlife abundance, hedge planting and the many more diverse projects. So much of our wonderful countryside the public enjoys is down in one form or another to the work of people involved in fieldsports. You will be surprised how many people we can get onside with a little education or being seen doing our day-to-day activities through proactive media promotion.
We should also offer our services and expertise to help with projects away from our land or permissions. Getting bird boxes up in local schools, churchyards, parks and public footpaths can help cross the barrier and educate the wider public. The big shooting organisations could further introduce these initiatives, but I am sure we can all do our bit.