DAVID HANDLEY COLUMN WESTERN DAILY PRESS
Another game shooting season is getting into its swing and, as inevitably as a shot bird drops out of the sky, the anti-shooting lobby will soon be racking up the protests and the propaganda.
And I, for one, will hardly be surprised. Because the more shooting has moved away from being a day out for a landowner and his friends to becoming a hugely commercialised industry catering for the corporate entertainment market the more difficult it has become to defend it.
The concept of shooting only what one could eat has, of course, long since disappeared. But we are now into a world of utterly crazy economics where shooters who may have spentthousands on a day’s sport take home a handful of birds which have effectively cost them hundreds of pounds each while hundreds of birds which have been shot in the name of sport are dumped because there is no obvious market for them.
Little wonder, then, that in an age when so many thousands of families have become regular clients of their local food banks the antis can hold up shooting as an activity that is morally unacceptable on so many levels.
Here’s the situation: we have on the one hand a large section of the population which is need of an affordable source of protein for its diet and on the other hand an infinitely smaller section of the population which is allowing precisely that commodity to go to waste by the week. And the two could be brought together to everyone’s benefit.
You only have to look at what can be charged for a brace of pheasants in a country butcher’s shop and what the same thing could cost you in central London to see there is potentially plenty of money in the market.
Achieving it will initially require ridding game meat of its elitist image, which is largely a hangover from the days when if you were caught taking a pheasant you could expect to see out your days in one of the less hospitable bits of Australia.
Then there needs to be some investment to set up operations to process game birds into ready meals, or terrines or sausages, because the proportion of shot birds which are fit to be presented to be cooked whole is relatively low: people don’t want to buy something which looks as though it’s been run over by a tractor and self-respecting butchers won’t want anything of the kind of their shelves.
And finally we need some investment into sound and sensible marketing and branding to convince the punters that they are being offered wholesome foods at affordable prices.
We need to get a move on with this idea because the argument that game shooting supports jobs in the countryside is being repeatedly held up to the light and found to be full of holes, especially when one does the analysis on a birds-per-job basis.
And with the party which at least claims to support the countryside under so much pressure at Westminster, and with many of its members finding it more and more difficult to defend the excesses of the larger shoots, being able to demonstrate and deliver positive benefits for the wider population may prove the one thing that saves shooting from the heavy and highly unwelcome hand of harsh regulation.
David Handley is Chairman of Farmers For Action