The future of shooting in Wales is a constant topic that features in any conversation on shoot days, club meetings and having a pint in your local amongst field sports men and women.
I have therefore decided to put pen to paper on this matter. In recent weeks our Wildfowling Club has had its crown lease terminated after 27 years by Natural Resources Wales (NRW). This is the largest sponsored body by the Welsh Government. They stated that they have sufficient ground for conservation purposes and therefore do not require more. This reply was after many emails and phone calls to NRW by the club secretary and was finally delivered in a phone call. Furthermore, there are other clubs in the area, and throughout Wales, that have similar experiences and restrictions imposed upon them. However, I will leave that for another day.
Who is behind this?
Who or what is behind this attack? Field Sports are slowly being nibbled away. Further restricting freedoms which have been enjoyed by many people in Wales over many years. Wales is rich in traditional hunting, shooting, and fishing. The devolved Welsh government is not supportive of these traditions, with the claim that their decisions are conservation based.
Let’s look at the History of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) which indicates that these claims are nothing more than a smokescreen and are part of a poorly hidden agenda.
- In May 2016 the NRW Board directed that a formal review should be undertaken into the use of firearms on land that they manage. At the July 2018 Board meeting, all evidence-based recommendations of the review were agreed. These included the recommendation that NRW will continue to consider the leasing of rights. Whether this is for pheasant shooting, wildfowling or other pursuits involving firearms on a case-by-case basis. https://naturalresources.wales/about-us/news-and-events/statements/nrw-confirms-position-on-shooting-on-nrw-managed-land/?lang=en. This report came out with a positive view, and Welsh field sports men and women started to breathe easier.
- On the 9th of July 2018, NRW received a letter from Hannah Blythyn AM, the then Minister for Environment, stating that Welsh Government does not support pheasant shooting, the breeding of game birds, or birds being kept in holding pens, on Welsh Government Estate Land. The NRW report was short-lived due to the interjection of the minister, and I must add with an estimated cost figure of between £45k & £50k to the Welsh taxpayer.
- Greenland White Fronted Geese (GWFG) had for years enjoyed protection from a successful moratorium with no shooting from Welsh fowlers or clubs. They were removed from schedule 1 of the Wildlife and countryside act 1981. An act of sheer vanity with no benefit to the GWFG. https://gov.wales/written-statement-greenland-white-fronted-geese
- During the Covid restrictions the Welsh Government refused to include commercial shoots in the Welsh furlough scheme. All other commercial activities in Wales received this government funding.
- Early this year, Julie James, AM minister for Climate Change, stated in a letter to Aim to Sustain that the WAG does not support the shooting of live quarry for leisure purposes. This stirred the pot among us Celts. Club secretaries and individuals exchanged emails between WAG and our shooting organisations to get some clarity on the situation. Chinese whispers had muddied the waters, going from lack of support to an outright ban. At this stage the Conservative Samuel Kurtz AM got involved. This forced Julie James to issue a statement, only for her to repeat the lack of support, and not a complete ban which was feared.
- At present there is proposed bill to ban the use of snares. Snares, as many people will know, are a mainstay in the armoury of predator control. They help maintain the all too important ecological balance in the countryside. It is currently undergoing the rigours of scrutiny which I predict will result in a ban.
- I won’t go into any detail about the fiasco around the changes to the General Licenses. I think many people are all too aware of the impact it has had. I will, however, mention a letter that was sent to NRW from the National Gamekeepers Association. This letter gave a very good perspective on the consequences if the proposal were implemented. (https://www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk/articles/ngo-letter-to-natural-resources-wales-in-response-to-the-proposed-general-licences-changes) NRW chose to ignore this and went ahead and implemented the changes.
The future of field sports in Wales is, in my opinion, diametrically opposed to the Welsh Government’s ideology. As a result, the Welsh government seeks power at any cost and will look to reap the populist vote in order to attain that power, by a strategic and structured attack on field sports. Consequently, it is here that the threat to the very existence of shooting, stalking, and fishing in Wales exists.
Forget evidence based scientific research as that will be arrogantly ignored. The PACEC report, commissioned by BASC, is a perfect example of this.
Finally, and equally concerning, is the apathy of the field sports community. There seems to be a can’t be bothered attitude to lobby our representatives in our local or national government. Despite these representatives being more accessible now than they have ever been. Therefore, I see this route as one we must take, with haste and en-masse.
- We must make a nuisance of ourselves by writing to them about every conceivable threat to our sport that emerges.
- We must participate in every consultation relevant to us.
- We must at every opportunity respond to the negativity that flies in the face of what the countryside really needs.
- This must always be backed up with peer reviewed scientific evidence, and not the emotive drivel that opponents of field sports continuously trot out. Soon they will come to realise it is not who shouts the loudest, it is the science that needs to be followed.
If we don’t start to be much more proactive, specifically in lobbying and advocating for our field sports here in Wales and the rest of the UK, it will surely disappear before our eyes.