by Tim Bonner

Britain and Hong Kong may currently be competing in the dysfunctional government stakes, but in better news for both countries 250,000 partridges, pheasants and grouse from the UK will be winging their way onto Hong Kong dinner plates. The trade agreement is the first major overseas deal secured by the British Game Alliance (BGA) which was created last year to as marketing board for game and an industry self-regulator for shooting. In just over a year the BGA has signed up 600 shoots representing over a third of the UK feathered game sector.

When I first sat down with colleagues and representatives from the industry over two years ago to discuss the problems of the game market and the political challenges facing shooting we could not have dared hope that in such a short time we would have a functioning body directly addressing both those concerns. That we do is the result of tremendous work from the BGA team, the support it has had from a range of shooting organisations and most importantly the shoots that have taken the brave step into the unknown world of independently audited self-regulation.

The message we have repeated endlessly is that the Alliance cannot do its job in protecting and promoting shooting in the political and media spheres if shooting does not have visibly high standards. Nor have we any chance of justifying the activity of game shooting unless every bird shot continues to go into the food chain.

As the BGA continues to drive game sales both in the UK and now abroad, and those shoots that have joined show that self-regulation is nothing to be scared of, there is no excuse for every shoot in the country not to join. Wherever you are shooting this winter ask whether the shoot is a BGA member, and if not why not!

The progressive thinking behind the creation of the BGA is also a lesson for other rural sectors, especially those that are subject to challenge. There is often a belief that the reputation of an activity is the result of media coverage or PR when far more often it is based on standards. The best media operators can only limit the damage when standards are shown to be unacceptable and the reputation of every shoot, for instance, suffers if one bad shoot is exposed. Whether it is livestock farming, shooting or hunting an activity will be judged on the basis of the worst examples which is why farm assurance and now shoot assurance are such an important element of the future of the countryside.

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