Like many thousands of people in the field sports community, I woke up this morning hoping Natural England’s announcement to withdraw the General Licence from tomorrow (Thursday, April 25th) was just a bad dream.
Sadly, it was not.
In a shock coup d’etat, Wild Justice – the organisation set up by Chris Packham, Mark Avery and Ruth Tingay to take legal cases against public bodies on behalf of wildlife – has forced NE to revoke GL04, GL05 and GL06, presumably to avoid a costly legal challenge.
Essentially, this means that other than under exceptional circumstances, recreational shooters and professional gamekeepers and pest controllers cannot shoot a total of 16 pest species, including pigeons and crows, from tomorrow.
According to NE, new, interim licences will be issued on Monday, April 29th, but at the time of writing, no one knows what these will look like.
Proof of non-lethal methods
Although I’m no expert, it appears that the challenge was based on the fact the General Licence requires proof that non-lethal methods have been tried and have failed before resorting to lethal methods such as shooting.
It was successful because NE were unable to prove that this requirement was being met.
Whatever the exact reasons, what follows now will depend largely on NE’s attitude towards lethal methods of control. Will they accept they are necessary and allow shooting to continue to protect crops, livestock, people and wildlife? Or will the barrier to prove non-lethal methods are ineffective be made so high, it will amount to a ban in all but name?
If NE allows shooting to continue, will it only be by professional gamekeepers and pest controllers, thereby stopping recreational shooters providing a vital, free service to landowners and all but destroying grassroots shooting?
Time will tell, and maybe by Monday we will have a clearer picture of what will emerge from this worrying time. Until then, all we can do is hope the new licencing system is not too restrictive.
Wild Justice blindsided us all
What amazes me more than anything in this whole bloody affair, though, is how effective Wild Justice has been on a shoestring budget. They crowdfunded around £40,000, a paltry sum in the scheme of things, and have used it to devasting effect.
But then Packham and Avery are no fools. They should not be underestimated. They’ve picked their target well, knowing what would result and the disruption it would cause. They’ve blindsided everyone, including the organisations we entrust to protect hunting, shooting and fishing.
So, is it not time we started fighting fire with fire?
Field sports needs a war chest
I have long thought what we need is a war chest – a pot of money that can be drawn upon to fight legal challenges like this. A significant pot of money which meant we could afford top legal minds; sharp people motivated by winning every case they take, and with a track record of doing just that.
Where should this money come from?
In my view, the majority has to come from the companies who supply the UK field sports industry.
How much business would the big international gunmakers stand to lose if shooting is banned in the UK? My guess is a lot. If they all put a donation into the pot to save that market, that would go a long way.
And what about cartridge manufacturers? They must be very worried about yesterday’s news. After all, all the major manufacturers have their own brand of pigeon cartridges. If this argument doesn’t go our way, then after Monday sales of these could slump. After that, their entire range of game cartridges will be under treat.
The same can be said about bullet manufacturers, as stalking will no doubt end up in the crosshairs before long.
Then there are the clothes companies, boot makers, hide and decoy suppliers, four wheel drive vehicle manufacturers, and any number of countless accessory suppliers and retailers. Even individual gun shops could make a small donation to protect the future of field sports and their own business. The list goes on.
Imagine if all of these businesses came together and donated a small amount (or bigger in the case of the international manufacturers) to a war chest to fund legal and communications campaigns to help protect the future of field sports. I feel it would give us a far better fighting chance than we presently have.
Structure and management
Who would manage this fund and how would it be structured?
Now I’m getting into territory I haven’t yet considered, but I would genuinely welcome suggestions as to how such a fund would be managed. One thing I would say though, is it should not be by the existing countryside organisations.
In my view, it would need to be managed by people sympathetic to field sports but entrenched in the financial and legal worlds. Again, clever people driven by a desire to win at almost any costs. Not polite, English countrymen and women, a little out of step with the modern world around them.
Many of the big arms companies around the world lobby governments all the time. We could learn a thing or two from them, I dare say.
And there are plenty of wealthy, well connected business people who shoot, who would no doubt have experience and knowledge to bring to the table.
Whether they care enough about the humble pigeon or crow shooter to be bothered or not, though, I do not know.
But what I do know is that if Packham and Avery can get pigeon and crow shooting stopped – even if it turns out to be only for a few days – with a mere 40 grand, then we are missing a very big trick indeed.
Their organisation is three people; we are a whole community and an industry.
If we could raise a war chest to keep in reserve for when these challenges come along, and use it to employ the best legal minds, maybe we would stand a better chance in the face of celebrity conservationists hellbent on destroying our way of life.