Game meat marketing and the need to develop effective self-regulation are top of the future proofing agenda for the Campaign for Shooting in 2018.
The Countryside Alliance Campaign for Shooting exists to protect your shooting, and all the benefits that flow from it. The Campaign for Shooting is most clearly visible when we are dealing with emerging issues: giving quotes, comments and interviews to the media; writing for the shooting press on topics of the day; and briefing politicians on debates and votes. Possibly the most important element of our work goes mostly unseen – working to predict the major threats to shooting before they happen, and putting in place mechanisms and structures to ensure we can negotiate them.
As you read this, the grouse will be coming to an end and we’ll be in the thick of the pheasants. Wildfowlers will be mulling over early season successes and failures, and relishing the proper fowling weather to come.
It can feel sometimes as if it was ever thus, and so it will ever be. Game shooting is steeped in cosy, almost reassuring tradition that lends it a timeless quality. These traditions, blended gently with the therapeutic powers of the great British outdoors, can make game shooting feel like an escape from the modern world. Many shooting men and women go out in the field seeking exactly that: a connection with the countryside that transcends simply looking at it.
It is vital that this sense of the timeless, the traditional and the transcendent is never lost, but to ensure that never happens it is equally vital that we lift our eyes beyond the horizon and see that shooting is not insulated from modernity. In some ways this is a good thing. The internet, to take one example, is making game shooting more accessible than ever, and the more people who experience the joys of game shooting, the better off we’ll all be. This widening of access is fuelling the growth of shooting, which means more money for conservation and more money for rural communities.
But modernity, with its rapid pace of change and increasingly volatile expressions of what constitutes modern values, also poses challenges. The first of which is to accept that just because it feels like it was ever thus, does not mean it will ever be. It is mildly paradoxical, but to make sure everything we love about game shooting endures, we have to look to the future and embrace the need to change and adapt.
At the Alliance we will be taking the arrival of 2018 as an opportunity to renew our Campaign for Shooting strategy, and review what we see as the major challenges against which we need to futureproof.
The most pressing issue is the need to self-regulate. It is vital that shooting learns from the passage of the Hunting Act, and the Countryside Alliance is perfectly positioned to make sure those lessons are not forgotten. In the past there was a reluctance to accept that anything might be wrong with any hunting practices or practitioners, but internal reform would have done the campaign for hunting a big favour. The time to do that was many years before a Labour government was elected on an anti-hunting manifesto.
Shooting must learn that lesson and tighten up on self-regulation before a government is elected on an anti-shooting manifesto. A Labour government is an increasingly viable eventuality, and keeping anti-shooting commitments out of the Labour manifesto is a key target for the Alliance. This can only be achieved with a recommitment to developing effective, credible self-regulation.
In any human activity there will be failings. There can be good and bad in shooting, hunting, farming and conservation practices; addressing faults should be the aim of reform, not a series of laws that ban one activity only to move on to the next. To avoid new, restrictive legislation, which would almost certainly be steered through parliament by organisations with anti-shooting sentiment in their DNA, game shooting must demonstrate a commitment to rooting out the bad apples. There can be no tolerance for criminality or bad practice of any sort.
We already have the Code of Good Shooting Practice. It can be found on the Countryside Alliance website, and Alliance members can contact us directly for hard copies to be handed out on shoot days. It is crucial that everyone who shoots game has read the Code, follows the Code and, most importantly, takes steps to only shoot on estates that clearly and proudly abide by the Code in all their management practices.
The Code of Good Shooting Practice reflects the input of all the UK’s shooting organisations and many other stakeholders, and is the blueprint for a well-run, conservation-boosting shooting enterprise. It covers rearing, releasing, conservation management, pest control, responsible shooting and consideration for other land users. We must all acquaint ourselves with its contents and do all we can to ensure that everywhere we shoot is meeting and exceeding its standards. Consumer power certainly has a role to play.
But if a shoot is not compliant, then buyer-power is not enough. At the Campaign for Shooting we feel what is needed is a definitive standard that clearly indicates that a shoot provider has read, understands and abides by the minimum expectation of the shooting community. In order to be credible, we are calling for a mechanism by which those shoots which are breaching the Code are clearly excluded from the shooting community. We are exploring a range of options, including the potential for everyone involved in the selling of shooting to commit to only work with shoots that are certified as Code-compliant. This wouldn’t have to be onerous. If shoot managers could self-certify online, declaring that they have read the Code and will adhere to it, a certification number could be issued that people buying and selling shooting could demand to see to prove compliance, a number that could be revoked if the shoot was ever found to be in breach.
In order to power such a scheme, we are exploring the formation of a body representing those who sell and buy shooting, both commercial shooting operations and the agents who sell on their behalf. There can be some distaste at the idea of commercial shooting, and woe betide anyone who refers to shooting as an “industry”, but such objections seem a little silly when we proudly proclaim the £2 billion shooting injects into the rural economy every year. A body representing these interests would be in a position to agree its own standards, and its own methods of policing them.
Such a group could also be instrumental in another issue that the Campaign for Shooting has identified as a long-term challenge — the modernisation of the game meat supply chain. The new growth of shooting doesn’t just mean more people enjoying the countryside and more money for conservation and communities, it also means more game meat. The game meat market is growing, but there is a disconnect between the growth in supply and the ability to bring these birds to market at a viable price. If this disconnect is not addressed then a very real problem may present itself: a surplus of game birds being shot.
Such a surplus would be both a moral and a political problem, as Countryside Alliance research has demonstrated that the most reliable way of growing support for game shooting is to grow the eating of game as food. The opposite is also true — the most reliable way to damage game shooting is to suggest there is no appetite for the birds that are shot. It is also a problem that could be prevented with a concerted effort to modernise, by developing creative approaches to local game meat marketing, lowering processing costs and widening access to game meat. The Alliance is spearheading efforts to drive modernisation, but we feel the key to making a success of the process is the formation of a Game Meat Marketing Board on the lines of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. Key to bringing such a board into being may well be the creation of a representative body for commercial shooting interests who can drive it, another reason for the Alliance to explore that possibility.
Game meat marketing and the need to develop effective self-regulation are top of the futureproofing agenda for the Campaign for Shooting, but they are not alone. We have long been fighting for a BBC that is genuinely impartial on shooting issues, but we see that issue coming to a head in 2018 as we seek to test the new Ofcom oversight of the Corporation. The firearms licensing medical procedures that came into effect last year are on the verge of collapsing completely under the weight of incalcitrant GPs and the unscrupulous behaviour of the British Medical Association. The processes have broken down altogether, but we are already working with the Home Office to reconvene the stakeholder group to find a solution before the problem spirals out of control.
Finally, Brexit. If there is any one challenge against which we need to futureproof, it is the process of leaving the European Union. The Alliance has produced the only policy document to consider how Brexit policy might affect shooting. We have held Brexit events with Secretary of State Michael Gove and with Labour Shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman. As Brexit policy progresses, the Alliance political team will continue to engage with the process to ensure shooting is protected. We are already arranging a Brexit ‘roundtable’ meeting in Parliament bringing together parliamentarians and industry experts to discuss the impact of Brexit on shooting.
Through careful analysis, we can pre-empt the issues that will challenge game shooting in 2018 and beyond by building today the structures and campaigns we will need tomorrow. By supporting the Alliance’s Campaign for Shooting, you can enjoy shooting’s timeless connection with the traditions of the past and the countryside of the present, comfortable in the knowledge that you have done your bit to secure the future.