The Glorious 12th is upon us again and over the coming months shooting men and women from all over the world will be heading out on to British moorlands to bag a brace of this speedy little game bird.
Even for those shooters who are not heading out today, the date still holds a special place in our hearts because it marks the start of the countdown to the game season, when many more will turn out to bag pheasants, partridge and a host of other game birds. For shooting people, this time of year is loaded with anticipation as we move ever closer to the season we love the most.
But over recent years there has been mounting opposite to grouse shooting in the same way there was in the lead up to the ban on foxhunting. Even now, long after traditional hunting was banned, the opening meet is still reported by practically every major news channel. It is diaried from one year to the next as an easy way of filling column inches and TV slots, as if 2004 never happened.
The same is now happening with grouse shooting. The Glorious 12th has become an annual feature on the news in stories highlighting the supposed controversies that surround it, with some questioning its very future. It is an emotive topic with a fixed date in the calendar on which to mark it, and that makes it easy pickings for the press.
Today has been no different as many who heard the debate with Sir Ian Botham and Chris Packham on Radio 4 this morning will attest. I’m a big fan of the way Sir Ian defends our sport. He speaks frankly and honestly and doesn’t hide behind rhetoric or spin. He does his research and quotes facts that stand up to scrutiny. The case he presents makes sense to those who are prepared to listen with an open mind.
Facts are good. Facts are needed. If the issue could be resolved by facts alone, we would easily win the war.
But sadly this is not the case. Fieldsports have always inspired strong feelings both for and against and along with that comes a huge amount of unreasonable emotions, and emotions, not clinical, fact-based analysis, is so frequently the basis of people’s views and behaviour.
In that sense the antis have it easy. The killing of animals by rich people is an emotive story line and one that, if treated in a certain way – unbalance by the lack of context and reason – arouses anger and disgust in reasonable people, people who are not naturally our enemies. It is this lack of context that can do the most about of damage because it has the ability to turn those reasonable people against us.
It is for this reason the benefits that fieldsports bring to the countryside must be presented at every possible opportunity; the environmental benefits, the financial benefits, the social benefits and the community benefits. These are the facts that Sir Ian brings so well to the debate.
But the antis can’t be allowed to dominate on the emotive front either. There is an old saying in PR that stories are about people and the most engaging ones undoubtedly are. It is these stories we need to present along with the facts; the gamekeepers, the beaters, the business owners who enable grouse shooting and all other forms of game shooting to take place. These people rely on the sport for a livelihood and have every right to expect that to be protected, as shooting people have the right to expect their chosen sport to be protected. We need to ensure that takes place so that our moorlands continue to be managed for the benefit of wildlife, rural communities continue to reap the financial benefits that shooting brings, the vital principle of liberty is preserved and the 12th of August remains glorious for years and years to come.
Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Dunpharlian.