One of the most pressing concerns for game shooters ahead of the Glorious Twelfth was the worryingly low Grouse numbers on moors across the UK. However Monday 13 August marked the first day of a shooting season like no other; one that is tinged with uncertainty but, for the first time, is operating with a credible assurance scheme in place delivered by the British Game Alliance (BGA).
In July the British Game Alliance brought together shoot owners, keepers and representative organisations to discuss shoot management best practice with the BGA’s auditing partners Acoura. During the pilot audit everyone agreed that there was a need to create a proforma book in which shoots could record and keep all the details the auditors will need to see in one place.
Following this feedback, the BGA is now working to create exactly such a logbook and will be sending hard and electronic copies out to member shoots. BGA Managing Director Tom Adams said: “As game shooting has grown, so has the scrutiny under which shooting operates. We should welcome that scrutiny and hold ourselves to the highest standards of shoot management, and that is what the BGA Standards are all about.
“But we also need to be aware that some campaigners use this scrutiny to find the rare examples of bad practice to attack all shooting. We have seen in Wales what can happen when politicians attack shooting for political gain. That is why it is vital that every game shoot signs up to the BGA, so we can drive up standards everywhere and protect our shooting for future generations.”
Support for the audit comes from across the shooting industry, including BASC, GWCT, the Countryside Alliance and even from the halls of Parliament.
“The Countryside Alliance has been integral to the initial success of the BGA, offering their advice and resources at all times, for which we are forever grateful,” added Tom Adams. “The Alliance has been leading the way with their pro-active approach to ensuring the shooting community adopts self- regulation, which is a testament to the Alliance’s determination to secure a sustainable future for shooting.”
“It is that determination, and that resolve to lead and not follow, that puts the Alliance at the forefront of the fight to secure the optimistic vision of shooting’s future,” he concluded.
Growth does however bring challenges. As game shooting grows, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that the highest standards of animal welfare and environmental stewardship are being adhered to. To face these challenges, the BGA are encouraging shoots to embrace self-regulation. Hundreds of shoots have already signed up, making this shooting season the first ever in which game shooting is subject to assurance, a move back by factions in parliament.
Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has welcomed the BGA, saying: “Thoughtful management of game and the habitats it thrives in is crucial to our mission to protect, preserve and enhance our natural environment for future generations. The British Game Alliance does an excellent job in promoting ethically sourced British game and I would like to thank them for the work they do.”
Among organisations attending the initial audit, BASC supported the BGA’s mission to market game and give customer assurance to those buying game meat. Steve Bloomfield, BASC’s executive director of shooting and operations, commented: “BASC staff are working with the BGA to ensure that this initiative succeeds and is credible. BASC has been involved with BGA in conducting the shoot audit and believes that inspection systems, properly run and scrutinised, can support high standards on shoots supplying game to the market.”
Austin Weldon, GWTC’s Game & Wildlife Advisor said: “It is great to see shoots and countryside organisations coming together to support the BGA. The BGA will provide the reassurance that guns and wider society need to demonstrate that well run shoots produce healthy and wholesome food, deliver wildlife conservation benefits and have high welfare standards. The GWCT fully support this initiative.”
Jonathan Whitehead from the audit partners Acoura said: “We’re delighted that the BGA is moving members towards industry best practice for food safety, bird welfare and environmental management.”
This news comes as the game season got off to an inauspicious start, as several moors cancelling most, if not all, of their days this season to allow grouse numbers to recover from this years extreme weather. However BASC Chairman Peter Glenser QC applauded the conservation work that will continue, with the help of increased self-regulation.
He stated: “While there is disappointment that people aren’t shooting, we need to remember that the excellent conservation work carried out as a part of grouse shooting will continue. If it wasn’t for grouse shooting, that conservation work would not exist in the first place.
“The lack of grouse shooting this year should highlight exactly what grouse shooting means to local communities; its true benefits will be more apparent in its absence.
“In a typical year, the estimated annual value of grouse shooting in England, Wales and Scotland is £100 million. There will be a shortfall this year. As a consequence, people will be looking for ways to diversify and bring innovative income streams into their areas.
“The whole shooting community should join together and support positive initiatives. We are all true country sports people at heart and with that comes a responsibility to support shooting through the difficult times as well as the good times.”