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'IT'S TOO EASY' - Shooters' startling appeal
Posted 1 October 2003
The following article by Rajeev Syal and Graham Mole in the Sunday Telegraph (12 October, 2003), reveals how the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has criticised its own supporters, saying that pheasant shooting has become too easy.
Pheasant shooting has become too easy, according to Britain's biggest field sports organisation, which also claims that the sport is damaging woodland because commercial breeders are flooding the countryside with birds. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation has issued guidance asking members not to target more than 500 birds a day because shooters are failing to give the birds "a sporting chance".
The guidance has been issued as game shoots become increasingly popular among the younger, affluent urban set. Madonna and her husband Guy Ritchie, the former footballer Vinnie Jones, and Marco Pierre White, the chef, are among the well known participants whose involvement has been credited with sparking new interest in the the sport.
Jeffrey Olstead, an official at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said that the sport was being damaged by an influx of big companies who had introduced new and unacceptable practices. "There are a handful of commercial shoots that are pretty unscrupulous and are damaging the sport and the environment by making it too easy," he said. "Too many birds are being bred by big shoots and inexperienced people are being encouraged to go after too many birds - sometimes killing more than they can remember. We are saying that no single shoot of up to 10 people should bag more than 500 birds a day. If they are doing so, they are doing the sport a disservice and going against the sport's ethos," he said.
The association, which has 114,000 members, is also concerned that some shoots are not giving birds enough time to acclimatise to the wild before being released for a shoot.
The pheasant season began on October 1 and continues until February. The association believes that there are more than 20 million pheasants in Britain, double the total of 20 years ago, and shooting is now a £600 million a year business. It is still mainly the pastime of the rich, however: a 10-man shoot can cost up to £20,000. The new large, commercial shoots charge for every bird brought down whereas in the past, shoots usually charged a flat fee for a day's shooting.
Holland and Holland, the gunmakers and sporting goods company that also manages shoots, admitted last week that it would be willing to organise a shoot in which up to 800 pheasants would be killed in a day. Piers Vaux, the company's field operations manager, said: "It is possible. We like to be flexible. What I suggest is that you pay for 500 and we enable you to shoot more, and if it gets up to 650 we will just invoice for the balance." Asked if there was a limit to the number of birds which could be shot, he replied: "It's flexible - it depends how the day goes. Generally 500 isn't a gospel mark." He then quoted a price of £19,790 for 500 birds for a day's shooting. Mr Vaux said that he had offered a shoot of more than 500 birds, contrary to the guidelines, because he did not want to risk losing business.
Brian Kibble, a shoot manager on the Earl of Suffolk's 8,000 acre estate at Charlton, near Malmesbury, Wiltshire, claimed that some shoots were regularly releasing up to 10,000 birds so that inexperienced marksmen could bag up to 1,500 a day. "They are just chicken farming - breeding for the shoot by providing easy targets," he said. "It is nothing to do with the traditional countryside."
There is also concern that the increasingly large number of pheasants being bred is a threat to wildlife. Species such as sand lizards and slow worms, and plants such as violets and yellow archangel could be under threat from the millions of birds released each year.
John Duncan, the director of shooting at Roxton Bailey Robinson, a company that organises shooting trips for foreign visitors to Britain, rejected the criticism, however, and insisted that the new guidance was unnecessary. "To talk about numbers is a very grey area. I think it's very bizarre for the British Associaton of Shooting and Conservation to say such a thing. All these foreigners who are coming in are spending a lot of money and keeping the rural economy going. That keeps a lot of people in jobs and does wonders for the environment. Pheasant shooting is a very valuable British business," he said.