On the whole I work in places rich in wildlife. They are abundant in flora and fauna because of the efforts, both physical and financial, of people. These people I work for, or alongside, are naturalists - The farmers who are my clients understand that they are no mere growers and producers; they are guardians of the land and the creatures who dwell there. The gamekeepers that I write about are exponents of balance being the key to conservation success. They control pest species to maintain that balance, not for sport or devilment nor simply because they can. They exhibit as much exaltation in a cloud of yellowhammers billowing from their supplementary fed cover crop in February as they do in their pheasants flying high over the Guns in December. I fear however that I have become complacent, spoiled by all my experiences of selfless thought and deed. I have misgivings that I am too positive. I have forgotten that there are some involved with shooting and the management of the land who fall woefully below the high standards set by the likes of those wildlife champions who I most admire. Sadly not everyone is an Adam Steed, a Graham Denny, a Mike Porter or Barker boy...
Recently as I worked away on a hedge I spied a four wheel drive vehicle splashing down the mired track towards me. In the back of the vehicle bounced a pyramid of bird feeders. I assumed that this sight was yet more conservation in action, supplementary feeding stations being replenished or moved despite the shooting season ending. Supplementary feeding provides important food resources for farmland birds in late winter and early spring on arable and mixed farms, by supplementing crops of winter bird food when they have been depleted and before natural food sources become available in late spring. Species such as Yellowhammer, Grey Partridge, Dunnock and Linnets increasingly rely upon this human help to survive the period known as the "Hunger Gap". I was therefore surprised when I watched the driver of the vehicle throw another feeder into the pick up's back. I wandered over to talk. "Taking them off to be cleaned?" I inquired. "No storing them away, the season's over" came the reply. "don't you do any supplementary feeding?" I asked "Why would I do that?" he concluded and drove off leaving me mouth agape.
I returned to my hedge inwardly swearing, gnashing my teeth at this individual. On reflection could I excuse this person's actions through lack of knowledge? I doubt it- anyone who claims to be a shooting man or woman would know of the extensive research into this area by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust https://www.gwct.org.uk/research/scientific-publications/2012/stoate2012d/. Was the reason for neglecting to alleviate the "Hunger Gap" due to finance constraints?- again I doubted that -wearing a Schoffel gilet and driving about in a vehicle costing as much as a terrace house in Lowestoft doesn't scream of poverty. My conclusion was that this individual only cared for shooting. His association with the land was one dimensional and selfish.
Thankfully this person is in an ever increasingly small minority of shooting people. However it is mindsets such as this that threaten shooting. We forget at our peril how we are a part of the jigsaw not the complete picture. Please feed the birds.