With an ever growing divide between shooters and antis, Caroline Roddis considers the media responses to the beginning of the 2018 grouse season.
The weeks running up to the start of the grouse season are the time when most people in the shooting industry, and those passionate about our sport, invest an increased amount of time and effort. I don’t mean into gun maintenance, or shooting practice, or checking whether or not you can still fit into your breeks (always a genuinely terrifying moment – someone should invent a type of tweed that doesn’t naturally contract over the years…), but rather into combatting the prejudice and misunderstanding held by so many people about game shooting.
As we all know, and as I’ll discuss at length next time, 12 August (or 13 August this year) is the focal point for anti-shooting campaigners to spread misinformation about our sport and foster hatred about the rich, bird-hating, countryside- burning psychopaths who indulge in it. Social media makes it all too easy for these messages to spread, but they are often irresponsibly promoted by the traditional media in the first place, meaning that claims can often be given an air of legitimacy they absolutely do not deserve.
Last month provided two excellent examples of the industry fighting back against this misinformation, one through social media and one through making formal complaints about content in the regular press.
We’ll take the regular press example to start, as that was invented first – although ask today’s teenagers and they’ll probably tell you that news was invented by Facebook, a platform that in any case is, like, only used by old people now.
On 14 July the Guardian published the latest installment in Jim Perrin’s Country diary column, entitled “Country diary: no sanctuary for hunted partridge at Melangell’s Church”. a panegyric to the shrine of the patron saint of wild creatures, which lies at the middle of a shooting estate in powys, the column also used Saint Melangell as a clumsy device to take a pop at game shooting. Perrin wrote:
“Now this shrine for a patron saint of wild creatures lies at the centre of Llechwedd y Garth shooting estate. Those partridges are hopper-fed, fattened for the drives that begin on 1 September. Lott Estate Management of Telford has issued a glossy prospectus detailing the creatures available for killing here (grey partridge are back on the species list). The Purdeys are being oiled, the cheques have been sent.
Soon this quiet place, where one gunshot sounds like the world’s end, will echo and reverberate to fusillades. The limp and shattered bodies of this year’s broods will thud into the ground to be retrieved by dogs, tossed into the backs of Land Rovers, sent for landfill. That this should be happening here is a blasphemy, an affront. Do the gunmen not see?”
While the fairytale-like story of St Melangell hiding a hare under the folds of her skirt to protect it from the hunt is quite lovely, Jim’s column is not. in short, it’s emotionally and culturally exploitative, as well as being factually incorrect.
Fortunately, our organisations were quick to respond, with both the CA and BASC firing off responses to the editor. Both addressed the factual inaccuracies within the piece and stressed the benefits of shooting to the environment, local community and food chain. Both were also excellent, and my favourite segment from either letter was this zinger from BASC’s Christopher Graffius: “To pray for the aid of St Melangell for this nonsense is the real sacrilege. Better to invoke St Hubert, the patron saint of game shooting, to protect a well-run, law-abiding shoot that benefits the environment and the local area and produces good food.”
At the time of writing the BASC letter had been published on the newspaper website, and the photo caption online had been edited to remove an erroneous reference to pheasant rather than partridge, but – unsurprisingly – the piece had not been removed. The CA has, however, also made a formal complaint to the paper and will follow this up with one to ipso in due course – an excellent strategy to remind the Guardian of its editorial responsibilities.
An interesting consequence of social media is that a single person can have as much influence as the whole of the CA, or BASC, or any organisation – if not more. If Taylor swift posted a picture of her clay pigeon shooting on instagram, for example, I think every clay ground in the country would be booked up for weeks. #shootingsquadgoals
Our industry is fortunate to have some Taylor swifts of its own (I promise, that’s not intended as an insult!), who are regularly taking people to task over their incorrect statements and seeking to change their perceptions using – shock horror – reasoned arguments and evidence.
One of these is the kick-ass Rachel Carrie, who has a deserved reputation for her unflinching and highly successful engagement with antis on social media. Carrie recently participated in a debate on BBC radio 4’s Today programme, which posed the question ‘can game shooters and their opponents ever find common ground?’
The opponent on this occasion was a lady called Georgia who was fond of birds and saying the word ‘um’. she was quick to jump straight into arguments for the banning of grouse shooting, focusing on the need to preserve birds such as Hen harriers and Golden eagles. She made the fatal mistake, however, of using generalisations rather than specifics, which meant that when Carrie began quoting conservation statistics at her in response Georgia’s argument looked incredibly weak.
The debate made for compelling listening, and I did a small dance of joy when Carrie explained her thoughts on why the data-driven conservation messages aren’t widely known by the public. “Shooting doesn’t seem to get a very loud voice in the media. anti-shooters seem to have a louder voice. over the years shooting hasn’t PR-d what it’s done very well.”
It also ended with Carrie agreeing with Georgia on the issue of punishments for shooters who break the law, and emphasising that all law- abiding participants in our sport feel the same way – a perfect demonstration of how common ground can be found when the two sides are allowed to engage in reasonable conversation. (an opportunity that, as we all know, doesn’t occur very often.)
Both the responses to the Guardian Country diary column and the debate on the Today programme (which has weekly listener numbers above seven million) were brilliant examples of what can be achieved when we are proud of our sport and raise our voice to protect it from the prejudices that it faces. I, for one, look forward to seeing more of these as grouse season gets into full swing.