William Moore William Moore

The covert campaign against field sports

If a general election is held, as is rumoured, in November next year, Labour could return to power exactly 20 years after the Hunting Act was passed, and there is the very real possibility of field sports being finished off altogether. Then, the government’s assault on hunting was a long, bloody, open conflict. Today, the campaign against countryside pursuits is more covert – a gradual process of lawfare. Over the past two decades, more and more regulation has crept in. Field sports and the rural economy that surrounds them are suffering. The groups set up to protect rural England often now work against the interests of both gamekeepers and farmers, with the result that the countryside is being drained of the people who understand and can conserve it best. 

When shoots face ruin, workers lose their jobs and ecosystems that were well maintained are destroyed

One of the most chaotic recent additions to the regulatory burden on shooting is the emergency change to licensing which Defra and its semi-autonomous offshoot Natural England rushed through in response to last year’s avian flu. Under the new rules, anyone who wants to release gamebirds on or within 500 metres of a Special Protection Area for wild birds has to apply for an individual licence. 

Defra’s risk assessment on the spread of avian flu was finalised in October and yet the shooting industry was not consulted about the changes before they were announced in May. Shoots which were once covered under their general licence had to scramble for the new paperwork. Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, estimates that 140 shoots have been affected. They usually need to start planning for the next season in December or January, so for many the new requirements have been a calamity. Shoots had paid tens of thousands in deposits, feed had been ordered, game cover had been planted.

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