The Countryside Alliance are asking all shoot managers and all game shooters to be aware of the risk posed by anti-shooting activists this season.

There has always been a slim possibility of saboteur activity on shoots, but we are concerned that recent anti-shooting campaigning by mainstream organisations and individuals may have energised the more extreme fringes of the animal rights movement. Our concerns have recently been amplified by evidence that hunt saboteurs and badger cull activists are colluding to target grouse shooting, and by a small pheasant shoot in Kent being trashed by vandals claiming affiliation to an animal rights group.

The incident in Kent took place in mid-July. “Activists” attacked two release pens full of young pheasant poults at Whitehill Shoot near Canterbury. Electric fencing units, IBC water tanks, drinker lines, feed bins and feeders were all damaged, holes were cut in the release pens, pop holes were ripped out and fence posts were stamped in half. The resident birds were scattered, and some were trampled by the attackers. The victims of the incident have asked that the name of the animal rights group not be repeated, although the graffiti makes their affiliation clear, to avoid giving them publicity and notoriety.

Quite apart from the physical damage, the shoot managers were very shaken. When they discovered the wreckage it was unclear whether the vandals might still be nearby. In an example of the poor rural mobile phone service that the Countryside Alliance vigorously campaign to improve, they didn’t have a signal on which to dial 999 or call for help.

Colin Hemmings is the co-owner of the Whitehill Shoot, and is keen to get the word out about what happened so other shoot managers think twice about the precautions they should be taking. Whitehill has never been shy about what they do, having hosted days for youngsters in the past and now looking to put on open days for the public and for local colleges, and everyone involved is keen to spread the good word about shooting’s conservation benefits and the joy of eating game. As Colin put it, “maybe if the people who came here and wrecked our pens had understood the conservation work that goes into shoot management, they wouldn’t have done what they did.”

Colin’s co-owner, Julian Tuck, added: “We only put down about 2,000 birds, but those are now 2,000 birds that have been frightened away from their food, their water and their shelter before they were ready to survive in the wild. By cutting the wire of our fences these so-called animal rights activists have in fact condemned most of these birds to a slow death from starvation or thirst. We plan to put up a sign explaining why pheasants are released in a pen, why we feed, water and protect them from predators, up to the time they are ready to fend for themselves away from the pens.”

Both Colin and Julian have been keen to praise the Kent Police Rural Task Force, who Colin says have been excellent throughout this ordeal. He only wishes he and everyone at Whitehill had thought more about security before the incident, and wants to use this sad event to forewarn others.

“We’ve now doubled our security visits to the site and installed security cameras” he told me. “We’ve also put up signage warning people they’re on CCTV when on our site. Our local rural crime task force are also now monitoring the woodlands with daytime surveillance and spontaneous visits with night vision equipment.

“Of course, we wish we had taken security more seriously before this happened. We would urge all shoots to contact their local rural crime team, get to know your local officer and make them aware of your shoot. Help them identify your boundaries, entry points and grid reference locations. They may be able to support you in setting up your security, especially if you make a point of reporting minor incidents that often go unreported such as fly-tipping. I would also suggest you don’t get complacent with your own routine. We were visiting Whitehill regularly throughout the day, but always at regular times. These times clearly became predictable, and it was when they knew no one would be on the site that these ‘activists’ struck. So vary your routine and turn up at unexpected times. It makes you less of a target.

“Finally, and maybe most importantly, sort your insurance out. We aren’t insured for any of this damage, nor if we have to refund money to our syndicate members. Our message to all shoot managers is get insurance, no matter how large or small your operation.”

Of course, It is important not to cause undue alarm. There are vastly more people who enjoy or support shooting than there are animal rights activists. But in the fraught climate currently surrounding the shooting debate it is important for shoots to be vigilant, both before and during the shooting season.

“Many thanks for your support in this matter, really impressed with the backup service from Countryside Alliance and the speed in which you have put together the media pack and press release – excellent job and so reassuring to know we don’t stand alone.” –  Colin, Whitehill Shoot

The vigorous anti-shooting campaigning of those desperate to fill their petitions and drive up their social media reach does seem to have had some unintended consequences; the fact that anti-badger cull activists and hunt saboteurs are now talking about targeting game shooting, after a prolonged period of anti-shooting agitation from moderate charities and individuals, cannot be a coincidence.

The Countryside Alliance has always been at the forefront of challenging inappropriate behaviour among hunt saboteurs, and we will use every ounce of this experience to support shoots affected by so-called “direct action”. We recently fought for and secured new powers for police officers to unmask violent protestors, as many taking part in this sort of campaigning cover their faces.

We’ve challenged the use of fake reviews, fake bookings, and even fake bomb scares to target businesses associated with hunting. And we’ve always asked our members and supporters to tell us any and all details they can regarding saboteur activity, including locations, car details, numbers and behaviour. We are now asking all shooters to do the same. By helping us gather this intelligence you can support us in working with the police and providing support to targeted shoots, businesses and individuals. Together we can help to prevent future incidents like that at Whitehill Shoot.

If you have had a similar experience, please email [email protected] to tell us about it.

 

The Countryside Alliance spoke to shoot insurance experts Lycetts for their view on how shoot managers can protect themselves:

Lycetts provide cover for shoot related activity and property under our farm and estate policy, which includes cover for Employers’, Public and Products liability including cover for beaters and gamekeepers.

“We can also provide cover for shoot kit such as feeders, pens, feedstock, spinners, stored fencing materials, automatic watering equipment as well as cover for Quads, Mules and Gators. In addition, our specialist shoot cancellation policy covers cancellation due to protesters activity on the shoot day.

“Shoots which are concerned about insurance for malicious damage to their property should speak to a specialist insurance broker such as ourselves to make sure they get the expert advice they need in this difficult area.”