I went to London on the train in October. I fear the Capital. It is too dusty, musty, oppressive and brash for one used to the fresh airiness of companionable Suffolk. Nonetheless I met up with, and ate the food cooked by mate James Chiavarini, the fascinating restaurateur and wild food champion, therefore, on balance, I felt my bout of agoraphobia was a price worth paying. I caught the last train home from a City that was still enduring the Extinction Rebellion protests, now into their second week of impenetrable performance art, middle class angst and celebrity photo opportunities. In my near deserted train carriage four young men boisterously joked, fuelled from the smell, by cider and herbal cigarettes. Their XR badges proudly proclaimed they had been involved with the eco-demo. Having exhausted all reading material to hand, I decided to engage the quartet in conversation, using my dubious privilege as a part time journalist to excuse my interruption in their chat. I explained to them that I was interested in what they hoped to achieve through their actions and I received lengthy explanations. Most of their reasoning seemed to revolve around prefixing numerous apocalyptic adjectives with the word “Climate”. As I listened, scribbling down the occasional quote in my notebook, one of them asked me who I wrote for. As soon as I let slip the words “Shooting” and “Times” their bonhomie changed to horror, disgust and hostility faster than you could say “Climate denial”.
They demanded I explain myself, believing they had unearthed a “Climate enemy” in their midst. It took me three stations of defending shooting and the countryside before saw a waning in their hostility. I talked of hedge laying and cover crop sowing. I waxed upon grey partridges and beetle banks. I championed free range meat and cooked Game with food miles measured in hundreds of yards. By the time the four shook my hand and rose to leave as our ponderous train jolted into Colchester, Mark, Mark, James and Sean had become, if not converts, at least kindred spirits to the idea that my vision of the working countryside was not so far removed from their own. I watched the four wander off into the gloom of an Essex night as the train pulled out of the station and onwards into Suffolk. Alone now I pondered upon where we have gone so wrong with shooting’s PR. Why do people who evidently hold the environment dear have a default setting that we are an enemy rather than an ally?
I came to a conclusion of blame as we pulled into Ipswich. Our shooting organisations are gifted large amounts of money. They receive this to carry out their asserted role in defending our sport, our way of life and jobs. Note the verb “defend”. Defence confers a sense that you are either under attack or at the very least anticipate one. I had to defend shooting and its place in our managed agrarian landscape to my four eco-friends. My defence however was one of advocacy- of our unassailable green credentials, our healthy food product and environmentally sound methodology of putting more in than we take out. It was a message that the four young people bought. I concluded that for too long we have sat passively waiting for attack. The hackneyed excuse that the media is prejudiced against fieldsports, thus we never get an opportunity to promote ourselves is to my mind a convenient lie. Before I threw my suits on the fire a decade ago I worked in PR and communications for a large rural people charity. I learned there that the general public are fascinated voyeurs when faced with people who lead a life different to their own. I recently finished some filming for a programme on farming for the Discovery channel featuring my hedge laying for the benefit of grey partridges. The film crew were metropolitans, they stood in rapt fascination at my work and the reasoning behind it. They held no revile for we yokels or horror in shooting our own supper. Our story is a positive one -the path to the heart is through the belly, our keepers are some of the nation’s finest naturalists, we are greener than most. It is time we left the Maginot line of defence and went on the offensive. It may cost our organisations some money to do so, but personally I would rather forego the glossy magazines and free tickets to Game Fairs. Instead fund professional communicators to proclaim our positive tale to a receptive audience. We have the good news story, it just needs telling.