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The Future of Game Shooting

Mark Osborne looks at the future of game shooting and that we mustn't leave it all to others if we want our children's children to enjoy what we do so much!

I was asked to write an article on rural housing and whilst this is an important subject, I honestly think that of much more importance to ourselves and much of our client base, is the future of Game Shooting in the UK. 

Shooting has changed massively over my lifespan (just having reached the milestone of 70!), and my first memories back in the 1960’s were of many relatively modest private Estate and Farm Shoots, a lot of syndicates and remarkably few Commercial Shoots. Whilst I am sure that there were “big bags”, I do not think I was aware of them, and most Grouse days seemed to be in the region of 50 to 120 brace (150 was a very big day) and most reared pheasant Shoots seemed to be shooting somewhere between 80 and 150 birds a day. Of course, in the 60’s and 70’s there were still a lot of wild English partridges and remarkably few French partridges, (many of you may remember the Ogridge?). Over the last 30 years or so, we have seen a transformation in the popularity of Game Shooting, the establishment of far more Shoots, some on fairly unsuitable sized acreages for their scale, Game crops, usually maize, pretty well everywhere except in the far north of England, a mass of Commercial Shoots whether they be Estate run or run by Commercial Shoot Operators, all with the intention of running a profitable business. That, with the marginality of Game Shooting, has always been quite hard to do. 

Shooting has come under a good deal of pressure in recent years. From firearms legislation, expense, COVID-19, Avian Flu, to a generally pretty hostile press, an association between shooting and raptor persecution, massive changes in the licensing system both in respect of controlling predators but also in certain areas on the release of Game birds, the antics of Packham, Avery, etc. The list is pretty endless and looks as though it will continue to grow.

Where therefore, do we go from here in making sure that we are able to continue to do what we all love and want our children and grandchildren to be able to do? The first and most important thing is for people to stop being negative. No-one ever won a battle, let alone a war, by thinking that they were going to get defeated. There is far too much pessimism and negativity on our side; far too many people predicting the end. If you are not careful that which you predict may well come true. The reality is that no one owes us the right to shoot. If we want to shoot, we have got to fight for that right. We are collectively fairly rich. In fact, we are probably very, very rich, not individually but if you add together the wealth of all the people who participate in shooting and whatever the scale of that shooting, and yet we commit almost nothing to the defence, let alone the promotion of Game Shooting here in the UK. We sit on our backsides, confident that having paid a subscription to BASC, the GWCT, the Countryside Alliance or whatever, it is enough, and we think it really is entirely up to those organisations to protect our sport. What a joke. If you want shooting to continue, then do something positive about it, stop moaning, stop making excuses, stop relying on others and get off that backside and really work at protecting our sport. There is a mass that YOU can do from meeting your MP and making sure that they are onside or at the very least are not anti-shooting; how many of you have done that? You can join together in local groups to make sure that you influence all the tiers of bureaucracy in your area from national to local politics (not just the MP but County and District Councils and their Councillors). You can write in response to any critical letter in support of shooting, pointing out the benefits of it to the countryside and the rural economy. You can consider very significantly upping your level of subscription. If we each gave 10% of the total sum we spend on shooting a year to the defence of it, we would have an enormous fighting fund. Even 5% would be enough to overwhelm the opposition. Instead, we whinge and whine (I apologise to the exceptions!) and think it should be left to “other people” to fight the good fight. 

I do hope that you are as passionate as I am in wanting to see Game Shooting continue in the UK for a very, very long time. If so, let this be a call to arms. It is also incidentally a call to arms to properly protect the rural way of life as I believe that Field Sports and the countryside are inexorably intertwined. We have let the “conservationists” hijack this, but having spent nearly 50 years professionally managing the countryside, I have found few conservationists, however important (at least to themselves), to match the knowledge, commitment and hard work of people like Geoff Eyre in the Peak District and the thousands of Estate Owners, Farmers, Gamekeepers and the like, who practically look after far, far more of the countryside than all the conservation organisations put together. If you want a very good read on that subject, try Ian Coghill’s book “Moorland Matters”, and whatever else you do, do SOMETHING positive to make sure we will still be Game Shooting in 10, 20, 30 years time.

Article written by: Mark Osborne – JM Osborne Rural & Sporting


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