CREDENCE IN THEIR CODE?
An estimated 47,000,000 pheasants are put into the British countryside each summer, many of which are hidden in six foot high, net wall enclosures in woods.
Where, which woods?
Who knows where so many pheasants are put?
The people responsible for putting the pheasants behind the net walls do, but does anyone else? Perhaps, some of the people who shoot them do, too. Organisations who represent the shooting fraternity probably know about a fair few of these ‘secret’ places, and could guess at a fair few more, but it is doubtful they could pin point every place.
The only other people who know, initially, where the pheasants are hidden, are those whose lives, homes and gardens are plagued by the pheasants when they venture out from the netted enclosures.
When, later, gamekeepers encourage pheasants to venture further to the places where they will be made to fly from, the vicinity of the hidden places becomes more apparent, because wandering pheasants’ squashed and flattened bodies appear on roads.
Neither of these occurrences, wandering bewildered pheasants, then mangled ones, represent the perception shoot organisations contrive to convey. Fearful legislation might curtail the shooting of so many pheasants, these organisations have banded together to produce a code.
But how much credence can the British public have in their Code, is it robust enough and does it have sufficient integrity to obviate legislation of driven pheasant shooting?
Their Code, shorthand for The Code of Good Shooting Practice, with a capital C, like Guns with a capital G, is a collection of ‘must’ and ‘should’ advice for people who are involved with shooting birds for fun.
The small narrow booklet can be found at fairs, talks and events or it can be read online. The advice deals with behaviour, responsibility and consideration for others; the rearing, releasing, managing and selling of birds; predator/pest control and legislation - the many facets of shooting birds for fun.
The logos of landowner, breeder, keeper, shooter and dealer organisations appear on the inside front page. Representatives of these organisations have apparently formed a Steering Committee, with a Chairman and Secretary, and tasked themselves with forming and overseeing their Code.
On initial reading, their Code’s seeming candour feels laudable, given its objective is to protect the reputation of shooting birds for fun.
The opening paragraphs state:- ‘Shooting has its opponents; the good name of shooting – and the ability of organisations to defend it – depends on everyone involved following this code......We must never be complacent about the future of shooting. Shooting and shoot management practices will be judged by the way participants and providers behave. Our sport is under increasing and detailed scrutiny and we must demonstrate that we conduct it to high standards.’
Setting aside any attempt to quell antipathy towards shooting birds for fun, which will never be over come, much of the advice, is common sense. The caveats, however, of ‘must’ and ‘should’, imply there is an unreasonableness within shooting culture, as well as exemplifying the futility of their Code, because their Code is just that, a code, not a law with teeth.
If only for the credibility of integrity, assuming the shooting fraternity really means what their Code advises, why not press government to turn their Code into legislation to incentivise adherence?
LEGISLATION!? Can you hear the trumpeting and harrumphing of Britain’s land owners, game keepers and gun owners? The last thing the shooting fraternity wants is legislation. The whole point of their Code is to obviate legislation: isn’t it?
The back cover of the 2008 booklet reads, ‘If you have any valid concerns about how a shoot is organised or require further information then please contact The Secretary, Code of Good Shooting Practice’, followed by an address, telephone and fax number, ditto the 2012 booklet and the 2017 booklet, which also includes an email address. However, there is a caveat on the last inside page of the 2017 format.
‘If you find yourself on a shoot and feel that the code is not being complied with, either in aspects of game management, or the organisation of the day or by individual guns, then you should raise the matter with those concerned. All the organisations which endorse the code will be behind you in this and so will every responsible shooter.
If non–compliance is flagrant and there is no indication that reform and self–correction will occur, please report the issue to the Secretary of The Code of Good Shooting Practice whose contact details appear overleaf. The committee that oversees this code on behalf of all our organisations will investigate and bring pressure to bear to correct substantiated breaches. If reform does not occur the membership organisations that sponsor this code can expel offences and have done so in the past.
Over the years, the code of good shooting practice has proved successful in raising standards and promoting best practice.
Please play your part in ensuring that all issues come up to the mark. Thank you for your support.’
Why wasn’t this statement in the previous two booklets?
Has the quantity of ‘complaints of non-compliance’ so escalated that only ‘flagrant’ non-compliance will bring ‘pressure to bear’ to correct ‘substantiated breeches’. Who gets to decide what constitutes a breech, which are flagrant and substantiated and what pressure, borne how?
Given that their Code, has been contrived by themselves, to protect their own interests, not non-shooting interests, (redolent of the 1831 Game Act) does not credence in The Code of Good Shooting Practice become precarious? Especially when the steering committee - the referees, so clearly obfuscate and contradict themselves as they have done in the case history of this cottage.
To briefly re-cap. The cottage was purchased in 1988, a decade later a driven pheasant shoot was created on the land which surrounds the cottage. In 2012 the cottage owner put the behaviour and the actions of the shoot in the public domain to challenge shoot culture and question the deficit of law to protect the interests of other people who live in the countryside .
This triggered a visit by representatives of The Code of Good Shooting Practice, followed months later with this written statement:
“He has also said that there will be no shooting on his field near to your house, that no birds will be shot near your property and that you will not be able to see any shooting or participants from your house”.
An undertaking which the previous pages of this website clearly show have been reneged on.
The changes which the 2012 visit had instigated were eroded over time, (exceptions are mentioned in the letter below) prompting the cottage owner to contact the Secretary of the Code of Good Shooting practice in October 2018.
This culminated in a visit in June 2019 and a subsequent letter from the Secretary of The Code of Good Shooting Practice outlining The Codes conclusion of the shoot's current behaviour:
'The landowner and shoot are complying with the Code and no contravention has occurred.'
This is the cottage owner's reply dated 8 July 2019. It is lengthy. It conveys understandable scepticism, given the failure of The Code and the landowner to honour the 2012 written undertaking and consequently questions the integrity of The Code of Good Shooting Practice.
Dear Mr Evans
Thank you for your letter of 27th June 2019, which acknowledges:
1.1 Your meeting here (Hollywell Cottage) with ‘another representative’ (Steve Bloomfield) ‘of the Code’s steering committee’ (on 30 January 2013).
2.1 ‘Changes were made by the landowner’, (Richard Cleeve of High House) to ‘address my concerns’.
2.2 You ‘wrote to me in 2013’ (18 November 2013) to confirm 2.1.
2.3 To inform me that ‘the steering committee determined’ that ‘these changes’ ‘adhered’ to the Code (The Code of Good Shooting Practice).
3.1 My contact in 2018 (a circular email, dated 30 October 2018, headed “So much for credence in the Code of Good shooting Practice”, sent to 17 people who represent BASC, CA, CLA GWCT and NGO)
3.2 A visit here (Hollywell Cottage) and ‘separately’ to the landowner (Richard Cleeve at High House) on 6th June 2019 by Sam Walker (BASC Regional Officer) and Alex Farrell (BASC Gamekeeping Officer) on ‘behalf of the steering committee’.
4.1 The ‘thoughts’ of Mr Walker and Mr Farrell were shared.
4.2 You have been ‘instructed’ by the Chairman (Mr Tyrwhitt-Drake) to contact me.
4.3 To ‘advise’ me of the ‘view’ of the steering committee.
The rest of your letter, however, becomes bemusing, because you state:
5.1 ‘A central part of your complaint is related to the reinstatement of a previous cover crop’.
The reinstatement of the cover crop in the field above the cottage (southern aspect) is not the central part of my complaint, it is one of them, as enumerated in the email I sent to you and Mike Swan of GWCT on 28 January 2019, which read as follows:-
“The field above the cottage, which Mr Cleeve undertook to return to grass, was this year returned to cover crop.
Guns not only stand in the fields either side of the garden, but among the trees above and below too.
Pickers up stand in the fields beside the garden, among the trees at the bottom of the garden, and above the house.
Beaters drive the pheasants westward through the SSSI meadow towards the garden, walk within feet of the bottom of the garden, up beside the garden to the lane, a stop, beats in the field west of the garden, which the beaters then cross to reach the cover crop above the house.
Pheasants fly south to north either side of the garden and west to east across the garden. Lead shot falls in the garden, and on one day even against the window panes. The remains of a dead pheasant lies in the flower bed beneath my bedroom window.”
The above complaints were illustrated to Mr Walker and Mr Farrell during their visit, by means of multiple graphic overlays on a Google Maps image, displayed on a large screen tablet. I turned the layers on and off, illustrating the complaints individually, and also all together, which clearly showed the continuing enveloping consequences of the proximity of the shoot to my home. This was in addition to walking down the garden and going into every upstairs room of the cottage, three bedrooms and two bathrooms, to point out where guns, beaters, and pickers up stood, explaining the movement of pheasants from the re-built pen to a new additional cover crop north west of the garden, and the damage to the cottage roof. etc etc - i.e. that the cottage is still surrounded by pheasants and those involved in the shooting of them.
5.2 ‘which is in view of your property’
The field above the cottage is not in view of my property, not now, not any longer, as it once was before the shoot was created.
5.3 You confirm the reinstatement of the cover crop in the field above the cottage ‘is a change from what the landowner had previously undertaken’
5.4 The purpose of ‘this alteration’ i.e. the switch back to a cover crop from pasture.
5.6 Was to provide an ‘additional area to attract pheasants’.
5.7 Apparently ‘away from your property’ Is the steering committee stating that a cover crop keeps pheasants away from the area in which the crops are planted, I understood the purpose of a cover crop was to attract and hold pheasants, ergo, there would be more, not less, pheasants in the field above the cottage, than if it had remained as pasture.
5.8 That this area is ‘then moved through on shooting days’ i.e. beaters and dogs drive pheasants in the field immediately above the cottage.
5.9 To ‘flush’ (startle into flight) the ‘birds’ (pheasants) in a ‘direction away from your property’. Presumably, ‘away’ means in a westerly direction, to Guns waiting in the field south west of the cottage. Such a direction of flight may be Richard Cleeve’s hope, despite the fact that he also stands Guns in the field beside the cottage and among trees immediately above the cottage on this drive: Guns who presumably have some expectation of pheasants flying towards them. Given the ecology of the pheasant and it’s need to seek cover, a south west flushed flight path towards further ‘bald’ fields, it is not surprising the pheasants turn and fly towards the trees north and north east of the cottage, thus explaining why guns turn and shoot towards the cottage, pickers-up wait beside the cottage, shot pheasants fall close to the cottage and un-shot pheasants fly over the cottage.
5.10 I note there is no reference in this obfuscating paragraph to the releasing, feeding, beating, flushing and shooting on the other land which surrounds the cottage.
6.1 The landowner is ‘sensitive’ to my ‘opposition’ to game shooting. Is he? Really? So sensitive that he persists in imposing his shoot on this home. What I ‘oppose’ is his enveloping my home and life with his shoot.
6.2 ‘To comply with the code'
Has the Code of Good Shooting Practice changed significantly since your letter of 18 November 2013?
“He has also said that there will be no shooting on his field near to your house, that no birds will be shot near your property and that you will not be able to see any shooting or participants from your house”.
If it was necessary for Richard Cleeve to change the shoot to comply with the code in 2013, why is it now acceptable for him to renege of his 2013 undertaking in 2018?
7.1 ‘The landowner and shoot are complying with the Code and no contravention has occurred’.
So to the Code - Consideration for others:
7.2 “All involved in shooting must have a regard for others” This is a classic case of actions speaking louder than words. It doesn’t matter how much regard a shoot participant may have for others - if they insist/persist on killing a pheasant, picking it up when wounded or dead, beside/close to a home or enticing/frightening a pheasant from one side of a home to the other side - the degree of their regard becomes somewhat questionable and by extension the Code’s too.
7.3 Surrounding a home with hundreds of pheasants does not “give rise to unreasonable nuisance”?
7.4 Pheasants do not know boundaries as humans do, nor read signs which indicate to only walk this way 'locate, provide and manage adequate habitat and feed supplies to avoid boundary problems with neighbours'. If the layout of a shoot sandwiches or surrounds a home, between pens and cover crops, whether north to south, south to north or east to west, west to east, that home will be surrounded by pheasants and the garden boundary is irrelevant.
7.5 ‘Released birds should be managed to avoid damage to gardens’. The Code omits damage to buildings - yes, pheasants can damage buildings too. They are curious creatures and very partial to pecking at anything and everything, and they are also quite large and heavy: roof squabbling is disturbing and destructive. I wonder what the Code has in mind when it considers damage to gardens? The pecking of plants, the flattening of plants, the bald patches scratched in lawns, the pecking of grass snakes and lizards, the scoffing of bird food put out for native garden birds, (which if purchased on a tight budget is deeply upsetting), droppings on paths, paving, gates and fences, discovered dead remains in flower beds.
7.6 ‘Avoid birds and spent shot falling on neighbouring property’. Avoidance seems somewhat problematic if the flushed flight path is close and/or over a neighbouring property. While some Guns may have the self control not to follow through with their aim as the pheasants fly towards a neighbours property, from observation, temptation wins, or perhaps I should say fails Guns. Inevitably, a given proximity, will result in tinkling (lead?) shot showering down on neighbouring property. The shots velocity may not be sufficient to shatter vertical window panes, although possibly could splinter thin, angled green house and cold frame glass or chip vehicle paint work. I wonder if it ever occurred to Richards Cleeve, why I, a keen gardener, did not erect a green house in my garden? The pheasant crashing through the cottage roof, in the early days of the shoot, is not forgotten.
7.7 ‘Cover crops should enhance the habitat and be sympathetically sited’, presumably not attract rats close to domestic dwellings, nor cause spent maize cobs, which can choke dogs, to spread to gardens, or be so unsympathetically sited that gardens are plagued by pheasants.
7.8 ‘Release pens should, where possible, be sited out of public view’. Why? To make homeowners unaware of what will befall their lives when pheasants leave the pens and people congregate to shoot them? Does not a home owner have a right to know of such a pending occurrence?
The remarks in paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 of your letter prove the Code’s ‘Consideration for others’ is vacuous. I do not know whether this is because the Code is actually just rhetoric, meaningless words never intended to be practised, as a sop to legislators who have a paltry understanding of how driven pheasant shoots function; or toothless because the Code, is just that, a code, not law, which any individual is at liberty to ignore without penalty, as Richard Cleeve has done here.
What is so staggering is that the chairman and steering committee have so blatantly contradicted their 2013 ‘adherence’ to the Code with their 2018 ‘complying’ to the Code.
Perhaps the Code’s meaning of the words ‘respect’, ‘unreasonable nuisance’, ‘boundary problems’, ‘damage’, ‘avoid’, ‘sympathetically’ only applies to:
The access for shoot maintenance.
The difference between a few metres and a few tens of metres.
Not the proliferation of pheasants pecking, walking, running, flapping, squabbling; above, beneath, beside and in a garden.
Not the destruction of autumn and winter silence by endless dawn and dusk multi-plus, surround sound pheasant squawking.
Not the spectacle of disturbed pheasants being frightened by people with sticks and dogs.
Not the spectacle of people pointing and firing guns at fleeing pheasants.
Not the spectacle of people picking up wounded and dead pheasants.
Not the sound of a resounding thump, when shot pheasant bodies hit the ground.
Not the sound of gun shot on driven days.
Not the startling erratic sound of gun shot on walk-up days.
Not the intermittent sudden sound of gun shot through-out the gamekeeping year.
Not the intimidating presence of people standing on the garden boundary.
Not the harassment of people standing beneath a bedroom window, videoing.
Not the menace of being closely approached, followed, videoed within inches of ones face.
Not being barred from walking on the public high way.
Not being sneered at, laughed at, derided for having the courage to maintain a visual record of the shoots behaviour.
Not being reduced to tears, exasperation and despair, of how to stop the shoots selfish, upsetting imposition.
Not even continuing to be “provoked for a reaction”, despite ‘strong’ police ‘words of advice’.
Not (so poorly understood by shoot culture), knowing ones home is a killing ground, a place where people come to to kill, and that every single pheasant seen and heard, is not an escapee safe from being shot, but rather each is a future victim to gratify a human being’s experience of pleasure while trying to kill it. Such awareness, reminded everyday throughout each year, from sound or sight, has a profound effect on one’s sense of well being.
That such a litany of behaviour does not ‘contravene’ the Code is beyond credibility.
The only notable difference here, apart from additional and enlarged cover crops, the replaced pen and a new pen, between 2013 and 2018, is the route game keepers now take to do their work, a change I fully acknowledge and am grateful for, and that Guns stand a little further away from the garden boundary.
At least, now, the Code’s degree of integrity is clarified.
So, where I might have been able to advise prospective purchasers of my home, that they could rely on The Code of Good Shooting Practice to protect them from the detrimental consequences of the shoot, sadly I can only tell them if they buy this cottage, they will be alone in attempting to defend their life and new home from upsetting shoot activity and harassing behaviour.
8.1 This paragraph reads as a tawdry washing of hands and dereliction of responsibility for the dilemma of proximity: unless of course, shoot culture really does believe it has the moral right to foist gratuitous slaughter on other people’s lives - thereby inferring all rural homes must just put up, pipe down and lump it - what happens here is much bigger than Richard Cleeve and myself. Attempting to conflate the ‘dialogue previously broken down’, ‘recently resumed’ - on two entirely different subjects, demonstrates a complete lack of understanding: an empathy deficit.
It seems reasonable to conclude that The Code of Good Shooting Practice is a fig leaf, a white handkerchief - to wipe away tears, mop up spills and wave for forgiveness when found wanting.
While some individuals and some individual shoots may abhor bad practise, a code is insufficient to protect rural homes.