by Adrian Blackmore

From the Winter issue of 'My Countryside' magazine, this article, written by our Director for Shooting, Adrian Blackmore, discusses how the shooting community continues to show resilience in the face of COVID-19.

Lunch outside on a shoot day can always be a joy in fine weather, but as cheese biscuits are being blown off plates into the heather, following the lettuce leaves that have gone before them, one has to remember why we have got to this state of affairs. Normally, lunch would have been inside the lovely old stone lunch hut sitting on top of the moor, with guns and hangers on squeezing around the table, but now everyone is sitting outside in a howling gale, two metres apart, having sanitised their hands and donned face masks before entering the hut to individually collect their food. Thankfully, that particular day in early September was dry, so the ‘event’ marquee, which can add another new dimension to one’s enjoyment on a shoot day, remained in its packaging. But no one, whether it was the guns, beaters, or pickers up, would have had it any other way. Despite all the restrictions and regulations put in place as a result of Covid-19, the day had still been able to go ahead, and as a result everyone could benefit from it in their own way. And that is all that mattered. The determination of shoots in working out how, not if, they can go ahead whilst meeting all the restrictions and regulations that have been introduced, has been marvellous to see.

Shooting is an activity that can easily be carried out whilst socially distancing, but there can be very few, if any, shoots that have not had to adapt the ways in which they conduct a shoot day – in some cases significantly – in order to comply with ongoing changes to legislation and areas being put into local lockdowns. Rural areas would have been amongst the hardest hit, with losses of more than £600 million to the rural economy, had shooting not been allowed to go ahead this year. The Alliance has been at the forefront of ensuring it could do so, and that will continue to be the case. We are still not in the clear, but hopefully common sense will prevail, because should the alternative happen, then the impact on all those involved on a shoot day, not to mention local businesses, isn’t worth thinking about.

Over the years, there can’t be many grouse moors that have not lost either all or part of a season’s shooting due to a shortage of birds, and many of those involved will be well aware of the significant impact that has. But for the majority of pheasant and partridge shoots, this was uncharted territory, and not knowing whether they would be able to go ahead when the Covid-19 restrictions were first imposed made planning ahead particularly difficult. A survey carried out by GunsOnPegs in April suggested that as many as 33 per cent of shoots were thinking they might have to mothball this season as a result of uncertainty and increased risk around Covid-19, and guns being unwilling to pay deposits. Forty per cent of shoots said they were considering running a reduced number of days. Charles Williams, who runs the Caerhays Castle shoot in Cornwall, contacted his clients early on explaining that if shooting was cancelled, or restrictions prevented them from travelling, they would not get their deposit back. For him, it was a matter of risk, and he was asking his clients to share that risk. He was correct in expecting 75 per cent of them being prepared to do so.  

Tim Breitmeyer, a former president of the CLA, runs a family shoot in East Anglia, and like many other shoot owners decided to run fewer days this season. He fully recognised the important part each day plays in the social fabric of rural life, and the importance of that was reinforced by a subsequent survey which is carried out each year by GunsOnPegs, in association with Lycetts, the results of which were published at the beginning of September. Over 6,000 guns took part in this year’s survey, 98 per cent of whom said that shooting benefits their mental and physical wellbeing. Only 6 per cent of those surveyed said that they would not be shooting this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. There were 600 shoots that took part in the survey, 85 per cent of which said they would be shooting this year, with only 25 per cent saying they would be running fewer days. This was excellent news, given the figures from April’s survey. Of those buying shooting, 30 per cent said they would be spending less, but 47 per cent intended to spend the same as last season and 20 per cent said they would be spending more, which highlights the important role shooting plays in people’s lives. But that is something that has become only too apparent from the way in which all those on a shoot day have embraced the many challenges this season. It is also something that they will invariably continue to do, regardless of the hurdles that may still be put in their way. The shooting community has certainly demonstrated how resilient it can be when faced with such difficult circumstances.
 

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