We have such a firmament of fieldsports organisations and associations that the term itself can become meaningless. When companies use the word ‘Association’ as a way of plugging, say, their .22 range at game fairs, it’s easy to become cynical about the term. We recognise those associations that provide a true, rounded service to the shooting industry, and tend to dismiss any others as unworthy newcomers.
We’ll have to put that prejudice aside for the Scottish Association for Country Sports, which – helmed by Alex Stoddart – exhibits real ambition to make a difference to the fortunes of field sports across the UK and, what’s more, to challenge us in those areas where we have been apathetic. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” Alex says “Particularly on social media, there are lots of people who want to help and so write posts that are well-meaning but off-message in the context of our work and the work of other shooting organisations. Some organisations are also guilty of inactivity or pursuing dead-ends and red-herrings. It’s a difficult path to tread effectively.
“Now people are beginning to wake up to the threats facing our community, the best thing they can do is get in touch with their membership organisation and ask what the current position is and how they can help. Don’t make assumptions without checking the facts. And if you aren’t a member of a representative body, you are part of the problem, not the solution.”
Though SACS has Scottish in its name, Alex says that the not-for-profit fieldsports and shooting advocacy organisation is UK-wide. The largest of its kind in Scotland and Northern Ireland, it has several thousand members in England and Wales, though Alex admits the name does put off a chunk of potential members south of Hadrian’s Wall. “Many people still do not know about SACS,” he says. “This is partly our fault, because the Association has never actively promoted itself – we spend more time looking after members than trying to recruit more. In addition, many people outside of Scotland haven’t looked past the first word in our name, and assume we are a small, local organisation with little influence where it matters.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. We maintain a local attitude, but we sit and influence at all levels from devolved administrations to the EU. For example, SACS is responsible for ‘practice’ being added to Firearms Certificates.”
Alex only started officially in his role just over a year ago, but he comes from a field sports background, describing his prior career as being “dragged away by business interests.” And he’s plain-speaking about how he got into the role: “A friend showed me an advert in the shooting press back in 2013; I had never heard of SACS, but it sounded like an interesting opportunity to move back home and work in the fieldsports community, which I love. It had been a struggle for the management committee to find a suitable candidate with strong business management skills as well as the necessary legal knowledge and practical field sports experience. I went for an interview and here I am.”
SACS’ deceptively simple role is to promote and protect its members’ rights. Alex says, “in the modern political context, success in our work necessitates tenacity, intelligence, pragmatism, empathy, professionalism and the ability to negotiate without losing ground. We possess all of these qualities and more, while maintaining coal-face experience that ensures we are authentic and truly part of the membership we represent.
“Everyone in the UK field sports world will see and hear more of us in the coming months and years, as we continue to grow rapidly and word of our positive ethos and hard work spreads.”
Especially in Scotland, the threats to shooting are undeniably mounting, whether it’s airgun licensing or land reform to sporting estates. Alex is clear that not all these problems stem from Westminster – some are of our own making. “The biggest challenge has two heads: the cycle of ignorance perpetuated by the public, the media and vote-hungry, venal politicians; and the apathy of our own community.
“Most people are disconnected from nature and the sporting use of firearms. Politicians want to win votes, so they say what they think the public wants to hear. With more urban dwellers and the rise of social media, the situation has worsened. SACS is active in promoting field sports where it counts, but it can be a struggle when people can’t be bothered or don’t want to stick their heads above the parapet. We are now at a march-or-die position – no excuses, we need to stand together. We all need to make hay while the sun shines by spreading positive news stories, unassailable facts, and encouraging and supporting new entrants to our way of life.”
That constitutes a varied brief for SACS – which is reflected when Alex describes his personal contribution to the organisation. “I could be in the office dealing with member cases involving firearms licensing, in London contributing to the work of the BSSC or meeting with MEPs, in Northern Ireland dealing with policing policy, at our accountants or insurance brokers, or running a DMQ course. The only constant is the early starts and late finishes; the volume and complexity of my work often requires me to work into the evenings and weekends on behalf of our members. This is a vocation, not a job.”