The Countryside Alliance’s Head of Shooting, Liam Stokes writes: On 30th September I headed to the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club Ladies’ Shooting Conference to talk about how we secure the future of game shooting.

The conference was attended by 100 lady guns, assembled to listen to a range of speakers and participate in some lively conversation. In fact, “lady gun” is an expression I now use with some trepidation following a vibrant panel discussion of the issues affecting women in shooting in which the appropriateness of the phrase was hotly debated.

The speakers covered gun fit, firearms law, cartridge choice, inspiration, competitive shooting, and my own offering on game shooting and the challenges game shooters face. Some of the attendees were brand new to clay shooting, others were top competitive shooters. Some had never shot game, some were thinking about it and some were experienced game shots. One was the girlfriend of a headkeeper I had trained in my past life at as a gamekeeping lecturer.

All shared stories of how the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club had helped them grow their passion for shooting. No matter where they had started, everyone present had moved forward in their shooting thanks to the efforts of Victoria Knowles-Lacks, the club’s founder.

It is impossible to overstate how important initiatives like the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club are to the future of shooting. Making the innumerable benefits of shooting sports accessible to all should be top of all of our agendas, and Victoria and her team have dusted the stereotype of the typical shooting man.

As I heard so often as I chatted to conference attendees: “This is a game changer.”

Protecting shooting is always on my mind, but it was doubly so given that was the subject of my talk. I covered all the issues coming over the horizon and what we at the Countryside Alliance are doing about them, but it struck me that the most useful thing anyone can be doing is swelling the numbers of people who shoot.

I spoke to a few club members at the end of the day, and heard some really remarkable stories. Women who had been opposed to game shooting, in one case opposed to eating meat at all, who were now shooting game and vociferously challenging those who condemn it. Thanks to the welcoming introduction of the Chelsea Bun Club they had been exposed to the realities of game shooting, not the distorted image too often projected by the media.

There is no proactive effort within the club to encourage people to shoot game, that’s not what the club is about, but just by being around it the women I spoke to had been convinced that game meat really is the highest welfare meat you are ever likely to eat, that the conservation and community benefits of game shooting really are worth supporting, and that they wanted to give it a go. The rest, as they say, is history.

At the Alliance we will keep battling that distorted media view and keep fighting the good fight in parliament and further afield. But initiatives like the Chelsea Bun Club are fundamental to that fight. One of the great joys of attending their annual conference has been the aftermath. I have been contacted on Twitter by people who sat through my speech, asking how they can support our campaigns. A growing, increasingly diverse shooting community, fully engaged in the debate and throwing their weight behind Countryside Alliance campaigns? That’s how we secure the future of shooting.