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Leading figures in fieldsports look back at 2019 and forward to 2020

What were the highs and the lows?

Shooting Gazette asked a host of leading figures in gameshooting community for their reflections on 2019 in fieldsports, what they are looking forward to about 2020 and also the one issue they are concerned about in the year ahead.

Eoghan Cameron, chairman, BASC

High on the list of successes for 2019 would be the resurgent solidarity between shooting and countryside organisations in the face of hostile agendas that are not only anti-fieldsports, but frankly anti-countryside.

The general licences saga, for instance, continues to be countered by effective, pan-organisational collaboration. Uniting under an allied banner at such pivotal junctures for the British countryside is critical. With significant challenges ahead, this model is to be celebrated and developed further.

In 2019, BASC also helped to launch 2020 Year of the Gamekeeper. Again, this is a joint initiative to help support and grow the incredibly valuable work done by the Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust (GWT). Celebratory events and fundraisers will be taking place throughout the year. The initiative is another powerful demonstration of solidarity that we can and should all get behind.
In terms of challenges, animal rights activists have now firmly opened their account against all shooting. Never having been too troubled by facts or evidence, they cynically and deliberately resort to misrepresentation and sensationalist tales. Sadly, sensationalism sells and this is quickly capitalised on by an increasingly urban-centric press.

Even some public land-owning bodies have felt unable to stand fast in the face of anti-shooting pressure from a vocal, but narrow minority. Small victories to the activists and cheaply won, but very costly to the countryside. While we are clear that sustainable shooting and the conservation of our great British countryside go hand in hand, these individuals are concerned only with the demise of all shooting.

Through our organisations and as a community, we must be prepared to stand up for the countryside and way of life we know and love. We must hold the media, public bodies and politicians robustly to account where we are marginalised, vilified and threatened. Rest assured that BASC and its allies will be taking the fight to those who treat shooting and the countryside with contempt.

Liam Bell, 
chairman, NGO

We have lots to be cheerful about, and many successes to continue to build on, including the industry-led reduction in antibiotic use, a better understanding of gamekeeping practices and game shooting by a generally ambivalent general public, and an increase in demand for shot game.

Looking ahead, 2020 is also the Year of the Gamekeeper. A great initiative, and one that I urge you all to support one way or another.

One of my biggest concerns is the lack of understanding or unwillingness to listen to and take heed of science-based evidence from some in government (both Westminster and the Welsh Assembly). Needless rehashing of current legislation where it is unneeded, and achieving little other than the obligatory reshuffling of papers, is ultimately counter-productive. It builds barriers, entrenches views and further polarises discussions, when both side of any argument should be concentrating on the facts, and willing to accept the views of others. Introducing legislation without the involvement and consultation of those who it will affect, will only result in more unrest and a lack of trust between user groups and officials.

Mark Osborne, 
William Powell Sporting

2019 in fieldsports was again a pretty challenging year for the grouse, although we were lucky to represent two high performing moors this season, when many others were struggling. We are hopeful that 2020 will see some welcome improvements on Scottish moors, after two generally poor seasons up there.

Finding people who are the right fit for our team is always an interesting challenge, but we are pleased to have recently recruited Ollie Severn, and we look forward to his help in further developing William Powell Sporting.

We also have a number of new and exciting initiatives in the pipeline for 2020, which we will be revealing around the time you read these words, which will further expand the range of services we offer our clients, complementing the existing ones we have developed over the last 35 years.

There are plenty of issues facing game shooting in the UK at the current time. To be fair, there often have been – indeed, we experienced our first encounter on a shoot by antis over 30 years ago.

The longer-term drive by Europe to replace lead shot, problems with the use of plastic cases, restrictions and changes to the General Licences and the current ascendancy and influence of the likes of Chris Packham and Mark Avery, all make life very challenging for those involved in game shooting and indeed all types of rural land management.

However, we here at William Powell Sporting thrive on these challenges, whether they are old or new. And just as we have dealt with previous issues, which at the time, potentially seemed like game changers, I am absolutely certain we will deal with these new ones and game shooting in the UK will continue to thrive.

Kevin Phillips
, director, Sportarm

2020 holds what can only be described as the biggest opportunity and the most exciting chapter in Sportarm’s history. In the late 1980s, at the tender age of 22, I opened our first shop in rural Dorset. I had no idea that we would grow into a multi award winning shooting group — not least with two further sites at the legendary Lady’s Wood and West London shooting schools. Our decision to open at West London in 2019 was taken to provide an unrivalled retail experience for the London-based shooting community — one that would complement and build a UK game shooting centre of excellence.

Many will say Brexit is the biggest challenge we face, plus proposed restrictions and the pressures on commercial shooting. However, it may not be any of these that, on their own, damage our sport. My concern is that among the shooting public there is a huge amount of harm being done by the negative conversations held surrounding such threats. There is almost a doomed acceptance in their tone — an inevitability, a surrender.

We should instead redirect our energy into innovating and overcoming such threats, while educating and motivating the next generation along the way. Our community has faced, conquered and adapted to modernisation and changing legislation for years. Let’s face any proposed change with passion and positivity. I urge anyone that enjoys and wants to see our sport continue to research, understand, support and subscribe to all of the amazing organisations that work positively for our benefit.

Kevin Rolls, headkeeper, Manydown 
and Bagnor shoots

We would like to build on selling our processed game in 2020. We already supply local pubs and restaurants and give neighbouring villages packs of breast meat to try. This introduces them to game and it has gone down very well. Birds are already processed for our Guns and their guests.

Looking forward, with the likes of Waitrose deciding not to sell game with lead shot, and if there is a ban on using lead, which looks inevitable, I think it won’t be long until we see it back on its shelves, which will be great for shooting. The BGA are doing great things with potential markets in Asia, too.

My biggest concern is the constant attacks from the antis on our sport, with misinformed and fabricated information, which the public tends to believe. Antis seem a step in front of us at times and we need to be on the front foot with quick scientific evidence. The GWCT is brilliant at this but we need to do more. Unfortunately, game shooting doesn’t have a celebrity like Chris Packham who is always in the media. But we do need to be quicker with our PR. The confusion around the General Licence is a prime example. Maybe we ought to take a look at the way the NRA in America protects its shooting interests, as it has enormous political clout.

gamekeeper and child

2020 is the Year of the Gamekeeper

Helen Benson
, chief operating officer, Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust (GWT)

Our 2020 Year of the Gamekeeper campaign is now launched and we are really looking forward to an exciting year along with our campaign partners. By encouraging everyone involved in or interested in gamekeeping to “do one thing” to support the GWT in 2020, we know this will ensure the GWT can provide support for gamekeepers, stalkers, ghillies and their families, past, present and in the long-term. Working together we can celebrate the work gamekeepers carry out every day in providing sustainable game shooting, healthy game to eat and an environment in which all wildlife can thrive.

There is no doubt game shooting is experiencing almost unprecedented challenges in a variety of directions and these will undoubtedly continue in 2020. In uncertain times there are inevitable consequences for gamekeepers and their families. These are our major concerns and the area in which we can make a tangible difference.

Experience has proved that standing together makes us stronger and this has never been more evident than in 2019 during the General Licences debacle. We must work together in 2020, united in our common aim to keep our countryside a thriving rural landscape with a flourishing environment and prosperous diversified economy.

Amanda Anderson, director, Moorland Association

2019 was a record year for hen harriers, with a total of 15 nests, 12 of which were successful in fledging young and a record-breaking total of 47 chicks fledged. Eleven of the successful nests were on moorland managed for red grouse. We also had the successful trial of the Brood Management Scheme, the RSPB’s legal 
challenge against the trial was rejected by the High Court, which saw the rearing and fledging of five hen harrier chicks.

Last year also saw the publication of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, which highlighted the multiple environmental and conservation benefits provided by grouse moor management and the need for adaptive management techniques recognised by all parties. They also agreed that new adaptive management techniques may be needed for predator control.

Going forward, we are looking to build on our ongoing work with Natural England over the use of fire as a tool to improve moorland diversity, reduce the risk and severity of wildfires and to speed up peatland restoration where heather is over-dominant.

We have ongoing concerns surrounding the new general licences, particularly as they do not cover European designated sites for vulnerable ground nesting birds. Our members have provided evidence to the Defra consultation and it is vital this illogical irony of the Habitats Regulations is overcome to ensure that none of the precious areas that support incredible bird life habitats are being left out.

Wildfires are also an ongoing issue: the last two years have seen an eight-fold increase in damage caused by wildfires compared to the previous decade. The lack of clarity or comprehensive guidance is proving to be a significant obstacle for land managers to counter fire risks. We are hoping that the Defra and Natural England wildfire reviews will dovetail with the England Peatland Strategy and Efra inquiry to create a joined-up approach to managing fuel load on moorland to protect them.

The recent criticism of the Ember Report in a peer-reviewed critique published in the Journal of Applied Ecology identified and discussed ‘significant overlooked flaws’ in the evidence base upon which government is basing policy on heather burning over deep peat. It called for a comprehensive review of recent research and we are jointly running that review with Natural England.

hanging game

The BGA will continue to promote game as a healthy and sustainable alternative to other meats.

Tom Adams, former MD, British Game Alliance (BGA)

The BGA is looking forward to building on the successes of 2019, closing a series of high profile deals at the end of 2019. Most recently, the BGA has secured a contract with Samworth Brothers who will have exclusivity on four BGA commercial game products, generating £2m revenue for game. Samworth Brothers has never stocked game before but because of the BGA assurance scheme, it felt the BGA has professionalised the sector. With these in mind, it is hoped that 2020 will be another successful year for putting game meat on the map, at home and overseas.

A concern for 2020 is certainly the issues around lead. The concern is if the food industry follows suit with Waitrose’s pilot of lead-free game meat, we face a drastic change that should in fact be phased out over a two- to five-year period. However, the decision to pilot lead-free alternatives this season illustrates an important sign for the shooting community to start driving change. And the BGA will continue to promote game as a healthy and sustainable alternative to other meats.

Simon West
, executive director, Gun Trade Association (GTA)

The GTA spent 2019 revamping its services to members. The new website has proved invaluable to be able to offer the trade fast, accurate information on the many changes affecting our businesses. The members area has been popular, featuring all sorts of advice to retailers and useful information to pass on to customers.

Shooting remains a hugely popular sport; a story that needs to be told. The world is changing and shooting needs to change with it. In the early days of the association back in the 1890s, there was big change triggered by the arrival of nitro propellants. Over the next few years as we need to shift away from lead shot, the trade will again respond. We will be able to offer new products and advice to shooters on what will keep them on target and filling their bag.

In 2020 we plan to strengthen our support to the membership. There will be more engagement with government and licensing authorities to help support the trade. We are now looking to recruit a deputy director to boost that engagement, develop services to our industry and increase output.

David Thompson
, marketing manager, 
Eley Hawk

2019 was a busy year for Eley Hawk with the launch of the new VIP Steel Pro Eco wad cartridges. We launched the wad at the British Shooting Show and the cartridges in time for The Game Fair. The biodegradable wad has been the Holy Grail for some time within wildfowling and we are so pleased to have cracked it. Demand has been excellent with plenty of early adopters. The next step is to look at how we broaden our Pro Eco range and find new ways to meet customer requirements.

The biggest concern for all game and clay shooters alike will without a doubt be the proposals by the EU and ECHA to limit the use of lead in ammunition. We won’t know until August the extent of the proposals or what the effect of Brexit (should it go ahead) will have on the implementation.

We are heartened to see organisations as well as ourselves working hard together to submit evidence into the process. Our role is to give shooters the right tools to do the right jobs at the right time.

Eley Hawk’s commitment is to provide choices, to ensure that there are always plenty of options to choose from as we face an uncertain future together. I think the key challenge during 2020 will be to communicate together as much as we can, to ensure the future continues to be bright.