As someone who has sat on the fence, for many years, of the hunting and wildlife conservation debate, Jake Fiennes’ article forced my “troubled hand” on the subject. There is no doubt that bird watchers, naturalists, conservationists, shooters and land managers must join forces to give our severely depleted wildlife populations a fighting chance. The statistics speak for themselves: huge declines in many species and habitats; the poorest country in nature in Europe; heavily polluted rivers; less forested than any other country in Europe; degraded floors – unfortunately the list goes on and on.
I felt the editors of Bird watching had the courage to publish the article. Especially since the article didn’t entirely paint the complete picture and was biased in favor of the shooter fraternity. Indeed, I had the impression that Jake was looking for excuses for his game warden activities.
Since the dawn of mankind, we have killed wild animals for our own reasons. It was during the Victorian era, with wealth and a desire to develop directed game, that the role of gamekeeper evolved – he (it is almost always male) became (and still is on many areas) the pivotal manager of the land, and the real bird and animal control business began in earnest.
Jake calls them vermin, but I consider vermin a weed – the wrong kind in the wrong place and mislabeled. Should we still consider raptors, pine swallows, wild cats and other species as vermin? At one time, Dipper, Herons, Sparrows and Kingfisher had a bounty on their head. But we no longer regard these species as vermin.
Many predators are referred to as “vermin” and controlled by game wardens to maximize the number of galliforms, such as willow ptarmigan, to be brought down. (Ian Dickey).
Game wardens generally have a lot of freedom over the lands they guard. The job can range from a part-time “hobbyist” with very little knowledge of even the simplest of duck identification, to those with a wide range of abilities and expertise. Game warden was once said to be a way of life rather than a 9 to 5 job, and in many cases this may still be true today. Maybe the job description needs to change – what about the ranger? A person who manages the estate’s habitats for all forms of wildlife; which organizes and records the wild shooting of deer to wild birds, waterfowl and rabbits.
In my view all shoots should be registered and required to adhere to a code of standards, keep and produce species control records, use steel shot, be regulated in the release farmed game, etc. Shooting is an unregulated numbers game – it has to completely change mantra. He needs to be more honest with himself and with others.
Fifty million birds released into the UK countryside each late summer cannot be good for wildlife, especially invertebrates. The huge amount of wheat used to feed these birds, the ‘controlled’ species to protect them (many of which are rare and protected), the vast expanses of moorland burned each year, the amount of lead shot deposited in wetlands. The filming industry cannot continue to ignore these serious problems.
A hardcore wildlife conservationist wouldn’t want to consider associating with the shooting industry, and vice versa. Game wardens have a wide range of abilities and interests, as does the “green” camp, anti-bloodsports, twitchers, naturalists, conservationists, and serious environmentalists – likely a range of much larger groups than the shooting lobby.
Bringing the two sides together as Fiennes suggests would require a huge effort from both sides. But an honest debate must begin for the good of all our wildlife and habitats. In the name of climate change, species extinction and ourselves, we need a better campaign. Rangers (or game wardens) and conservationists need, as Fiennes suggests, to work more closely. But honestly, with understanding and patience.