The decision this morning wasn’t whether to brave the winter weather. It was what guns to take? Looking out of the windows at home I could see the light boughs of young yew and cedar bending under a Northerly blow. In the habit lately of taking both air rifle and rimfire, I glanced at the digital weather station in my kitchen. The technological claim of 30C would be challenged later. What was certain was that was going to be a ‘warm hat and shooting glove’ morning so I opted for the air rifle. I had already decided on a location where I could balance leeward shelter with hunting opportunity. The expectation of some sunshine later added to that choice.
Arriving on the estate I ploughed the recently valeted CR-V through deep puddles and thick mud with a grimace. Oh well … no gain without pain, they say! I had hell n’ all trouble getting a set of serious all-terrain boots for this motor due to the wheel sizes but I have to say it was worthwhile. It hasn’t let me down yet … touches his wooden head! I parked up at the top of the escarpment, near the woodsheds, pointing my bonnet in the direction I would be stalking. An agreed code which allows the Lady and her staff to know where my rifle and potential risk is if they take some exercise, with their dogs, in the woods. I slid out of the warm motor and stepped onto the muddy track. A bitter wind, keen enough to make the eyes bleed, slapped at my face. Under the tailgate I donned a trapper hat, a snood and a pair of shooting mitts. It would be more sheltered in the old arboretum at the base of the escarpment … but I needed to get there first, with at least my trigger finger thawed! I loaded a couple of magazines with .22 Webley Accupells, loaded the gun, checked the safety was on and locked the car. Above me, rooks and crows rolled in the Artic born draught. Black surfers on an invisible tide.
The walk down the escarpment was slippery and testing, so I kept the ‘safety’ on despite the plethora of woodpigeon in the sitty trees on the slopes. They departed tree by tree, as I progressed; squadrons to be challenged another day. At the base of the hill I was met with the sort of target that every airgun hunter hates. A grey squirrel leapt from a flint wall onto the track just eight yards from me. It stared at me as I fumbled to bring rifle from slung to ready but was gone before I could level the gun, let alone focus so closely. Fair law and fair escape.
I paused at the gate in the lane between wood and field; just to watch and hear the birds on the recently flood-drenched water meadows. The waters have receded now but the splashes still hold a diaspora of fowl. Teal, wigeon, mallard, greylags, Canadas, mute swans and a little egret all visible from the gate. Turning into the murk of the wood and it’s umbrella of ancient yew, I immediately heard the chatter and hiss of Sciurus carolensis. The grey invader. A species that was innocently introduced to Britain when these yew trees were mere saplings. Non-native, like the yew, they too have thrived. I stalked the garden wood and toppled three, which is two more than I expected in this chill. Squirrels don’t hibernate but they will sit tight in the dreys in cold or excessively wet weather.
The climb back up the slope later warmed my limbs and at the top, as my heaving lungs expired the mist of spent breath, I looked into the blue sky; drawn by the shout of the rooks and the furious mewling of a raptor. The old buzzard wheeled and jinked majestically, pursued by a throng of nagging corvids. They might feint and fuss, but the old bird had the confidence to ignore their meaningless threat. She has ruled these woods too long to take umbrage to inferiors and this year, as in the past seven, she will breed here again.
It was with a heavy heart, when I got home later, that I read of the capitulation of another old buzzard, from a tribe in which I had placed the confidence of my vote for many terms of election during my lifetime. Resilience is the backbone of a stable and sustainable genus. Caving in to perceived ‘popular opinion’ is like letting the crows (or should that read Corbyns) batter you from your righteous perch. To then insult your voters by saying you will build a ‘new forest’ just confirms that you were never concerned about the ‘old forest’ anyway. This, for me, was the ultimate insult and most landowners don’t seem to have spotted this dressed reference. An attack on private landowners by Tories? Ye Gods!
“This new Northern Forest is an exciting project that will create a vast ribbon of woodland cover in northern England, providing a rich habitat for wildlife to thrive, and a natural environment for millions of people to enjoy.”
Lest they forget, we already have a multitude of habitats for ‘millions of people to enjoy’. They’re called National Parks or ‘Nature Reserves’.
Consider this too? “Paul de Zylva from Friends of Earth told BBC News: “It is a supreme irony that tree planters will have to get funding from HS2, which threatens 35 ancient woodlands north of Birmingham”
Great! Rip up ancient established woods to build a train line? Can you see the perverse ironies here, folks? Money matters, wilderness doesn’t?
And the people that know, the Woodland Trust, say “the Forest will be less of a green ribbon and more of a sparsely-threaded doily”. £5.7M doesn’t buy many trees, let alone the design and labour to implement this nonsense.
I enjoyed my little sortie into a patch of ancient mixed woodland today, with my gun and not just a little taste of freedom. I’m old enough not to fret too much about all this getting closed down eventually (not the land but the hunting, the shooting, the freedom to walk it as a hunter). It’s the young guns I fear for. And those whose income depends on the shooting and hunting tradition. A whole generation of urban, flat-living, cat-keeping keyboard warriors and plastic politicians who rarely leave suburbia (they might get muddy!) are about to destroy the countryside. We have fought to preserve the wild places against eco-hooliganism based on a real knowledge of how nature works … red in tooth and claw.
Those that seek to ‘save’ the fox seem totally oblivious to the fact that fox populations are in decline since the Hunting Act. Let’s put our heads under the pillow, shall we? Perhaps let the cat sit on it? Killer of (in RSPB terms) some 55 million songbirds every year?
But I digress. I had a good day out today in an ancient wood today. I saw muntjac, roe, hare, squirrel (not for long), long-tailed tits … the list is endless. Strangely though, I didn’t see a fox. Having got home and opened up the Mac, I wished I had stayed there.
Disappointed? Most definitely. Because a PM turned on promise. I’m just one in millions today to feel betrayed.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, January 2018
As I reach the twilight of my working life and look forward to full blown retirement, I have no fear of having ‘nothing to do’. For much of my life (I’m now 59) I’ve struggled to find enough recreational time outside work to do the things I really love to do. Writing, shooting and photography are passions of mine and I’ve always crammed them between family and the day job. Doing a job I enjoy, in my latter years, has been important to my physical and mental health. I’m lucky to have reached that age where experience tells me when to walk away from stress and conflict. I’ve learned, as a seasoned senior manager, how important it is to protect my integrity … particularly in the face of young, ambitious seniors. I was like them once, I must confess! Nowadays, I don’t take any nonsense. It’s that ‘young bull, old bull’ syndrome. The young bull is feeding with the old bull at the top of the meadow, looking at the cows and says “You know what, Dad. I’m going to sprint down there and cover one of them beauties!” The old bull snorts at him and replies, “You know what, boy? I’m going to amble down there later and cover the rest.”
I’ve seen too many old workaholics reach retirement and keel over within just a couple of years. Lives wasted. My hobbies keep me fit and sane. They are as important to me as my work and pay. Work / life balance is rarely managed by employers efficiently. You have to manage it yourself. Loyalty to an employer is rarely matched by flexibility and I’ve seen many people make over-working (for no extra pay) the norm to a point where if they stop doing it, the employer accuses them of disloyalty! There is a line in a Radiohead song (High And Dry) “You kill yourself for recognition, you kill yourself to never, ever stop”. So true.
Work / life balance is the key to ensuring that when you’ve finally paid the piper you still have those you love around you, something to interest you going forward and the health to enjoy it all. Never get caught up in that trap of thinking that what you work at is what you are. If people ask me what I ‘am’?, I tell them … I am a husband, father, writer, shooter, photographer. I don’t say ‘I am a manager’. For that’s just my job. It’s what funds the things I love to do most. If my answer to ‘what are you?’ is “I am a manager”, then when I’m not a manager, does it mean ‘ I am not’? How absurd.
A great modern philosopher, Dr Wayne Dyer, once said that you only get treated in life the way you allow people to treat you. I heard that at a point in my life when I really needed to hear it, for I was being taken for granted in both by personal and work life. I looked inwardly and changed my life radically, some would say selfishly. Yet another of Dyers observations hit me hard too. If you are living your life through a sense of obligation, then you are a slave. And no-one should live the life of a slave. Cutting the chains of obligation freed me to enjoy a life of exploration and fulfilment. And I still am.
The only ‘mistress’ now who commands my full attention (for I can never leave her side) is Mother Nature. Money? It comes and goes. Work? A necessary function which I give my full attention for my contracted time … and no more! We’re not on this Earth for a practise run. This is it folks. One life, live it!
©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, April 2016
My last post on here turned out to be a prophecy fulfilled, unfortunately. No-one is to blame for this. Many of us in the pro-hunting camp rely on a number of hardcore political lobbyists aligned to our various Associations and Alliances to do the campaigning for a fair deal for hunters, shooters, anglers et al. I take no real joy in having predicted that the timing was wrong for a debate on amendments to the Hunting Act. If I was to blame anyone for the faux-pas, it would be the Tory administration for not lining up their ducks in the right order (if you’ll excuse the phrase). What really got my goat, however, was that it allowed an annoying and insipid bunch of animal rights campaigners calling themselves ‘Team Fox’ to claim some sort of moral victory. The postponement of the debate had nothing to do with animal rights concerns and everything to do with a political ‘pissing contest’. It exposed the SNP as future meddlers in English law despite promises not to do so and therefore highlighted the need for EVEL (English Votes for English Law). Which is where the ducks were lined up wrongly, of course.
All of this, on top of the recent decision by SMP’s to enforce airgun licensing in Scotland, just shows how unreasonably emotional the subject of hunting and guns can be amongst my ‘Misinformed‘. One pundit calculated this week that it will take the 14 remaining Firearms Officers in Scotland about 45 years to process the 500,000 license claims from existing airgun owners. The law is an ass? You bet your ass! Airgun crime is at an all-time low in Scotland (indeed, the UK). Airgun ‘criminals’ are hardly likely to apply for a license, are they? What a waste of political, legal and police time. Time that would be better devoted to combating radicalism and protecting UK residents from ‘real and present’ danger from terrorism.
But enough on politics. This is Wildscribblers blog! My off-road sorties into the Norfolk hinterland in pursuit of vermin are on hold for a week or two, which will please Mr May and friends. Not that the rabbits and magpies will be entirely safe. A fairly serious RTA yesterday, from which both I and the other driver walked away unscathed, means the X-Trail is a write-off. A testament to the strength of modern vehicles. My little courtesy car isn’t exactly built for farm tracks so I will be using Shanks Pony to access land for a while.
Has anyone noticed how prolific the wildflowers are this summer, and hence the ‘pollinators’. All around me in Norfolk, the County Council cut-backs have meant minimal cutting back of verges except where it threatens motorists visibility. As a result, highway verges are a splash of colour. Poppy, ragged robin, dandelion, foxglove, mullein, hemlock, rosebay willowherb, mallow, vetch. The list is endless and a huge source of pollen for hoverflies, honey bees and solitary bees. Brilliant to see. Of course, where there are insects, there are birds. The yellowhammers, warblers and robins have an abundance of food now. I took a picture the other day (that I will share some time soon) of a yellowhammer with a beak full of flies. I wondered where the nest of chicks were? And whether the magpies and crows were watching? So, I have a question for the reader? If the little yellowhammer is a hunter of flies, what momentary pain does the fly feel? Probably the same as the momentary pain the yellowhammers chick feels when the carrion crow snatches it? Perhaps the same momentary pain that the crow feels when I shoot it? Predation, pain, death … these are all a common theme in Mother Natures grand scheme. You can’t discriminate and exempt any creature from this inevitability. If you do, you are playing at being at ‘Mother Nature’ or ‘God’ or whatever you, personally, call the higher plane. I call it Tao … but to each, their own.
Have a good weekend, guys and girls. I will. Because I’m still alive. And for about three seconds yesterday morning, I didn’t expect to be.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2015
Am I the only one left thinking that next weeks Parliamentary debate and vote on amendments to the Hunting Act 2004 is a dangerous move for the pro-hunting lobby? Already we are reading that Labour may whip their Members to vote against the amendments and what the SNP will do (on an issue that doesn’t affect Scotland) is anyone’s guess? Let’s not forget that Scotland have just legislated to introduce airgun licensing. Surely it would have been in the interest of the broader rural agenda for a Government truly wanting repeal to have waited for the right opportunity to introduce a free vote on exactly that … repeal? Not ‘amendment’. I fear that a bad result next week will push the prospect of complete repeal back by years.
Despite what LACS and the RSPCA etc would have you believe, the Hunting Act has been an abomination. A complete waste of public money and legal time. Just think about it’s basis for a moment? The main point of the Act (if you disregard the very obvious and misguided attempt at class warfare … most hunters aren’t ‘upper class’) is to stop the pursuit and killing of wild mammals by dogs. One of the most natural inclinations of the domestic dog is to track, trail and (for many breeds) kill. That’s why domestic dogs exist in our homes, descendants of the wolf hybrids used by early man to put food on the table. Every single domestic dog breed holds the genes which relate them directly back to that mighty and beautiful hunter, the wolf. Unlike the fox. The fox has no genetic link to the wolf. How many of you knew that? Legislating to curb a dogs hunting instinct is as ridiculous as bringing in a law to stop babies crying or monkeys climbing.
The absurdity of the Act has never been just in its political intention. It has also been in its legal hypocrisy. Stalking and flushing vermin or game to the gun was exempted if only two dogs were used and they didn’t make the kill. The Act then went on to exempt the killing of rabbits and rats using dogs (thankfully) but hey! Hang on? Rabbits and rats are mammals … like hares, squirrels, foxes and deer. So what legal mastermind decided that the grey squirrel enjoys a higher status in ecology than the brown rat? Or that the brown hare has a different pain threshold to a rabbit? If the law is about common sense (I know, I know) then if it’s justifiable to kill a rabbit with a dog, it should also be justifiable to kill any wild mammal with a dog, on permitted land and for the same reasons as the rabbit? Which is why I believe next weeks proposed amendments don’t go far enough. We need to get back to a point where dogs are allowed to kill (not just flush) but with respect to the Wildlife Acts, close seasons and rare species protection. Pack hunting to flush out or bring down prey is older than mankind itself, so what right do we have to call it wrong? Mankind harnessed that efficiency when it domesticated the dog. Dogs should be allowed to hunt. It’s in their nature, just like wolves and tigers and lions.
And what about cats? The RSPB themselves state that in the UK alone, domestic cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. Why don’t the bunny-huggers want to legislate against allowing Puss out into the garden? Hey, now there’s an idea! If the amendment goes through I could become the first Master of the Norfolk Moggyhounds?
I was only joking … don’t waste your time with comments.
Personally, I feel let down by next weeks proposals. This isn’t what I voted for, a foppish concession to the Foxhunts which serves no purpose for the common or garden shooter / hunter.
Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2015
I’m not a Political animal, with a capital ‘P’ yet (like all who enjoy country-sports and the countryside), I have a vested interest in the pending General Election and what it might mean to my beloved British countryside and it’s rural economy. I’m the typical marginal voter that needs to be courted by candidates and convinced that their manifesto will protect interests meaningful to me or repair issues that anger, offend or disenfranchise not just me … but my peers too. I have to say that as things stand, the whole sorry pantomime cast of Party leadership doesn’t look worthy of my vote. Yet I learned many years ago (and I hope my son does too) that a vote not cast leaves you with the sour taste of indifference in your mouth. So my decisions are usually informed by evidence of solid groundwork by local MP’s. Not vote-lobbying PR stunts and front-page posing but genuine, sleeves-rolled-up support for local issues and local people.
Last time around, I walked into the polling booth with determination and put my cross where my heart was most moved at the time. As a hunter, a hunting author and part-time shooting journalist I was persuaded that a Tory return would result in a repeal of the Hunting Act. A nonsensical piece of legislation which Britain should be ashamed of. A dog can chase a rat but not a squirrel? It can chase a rabbit but not a hare? I spent hours showing my lurcher pictures of rats, squirrels, rabbits and hares in attempts to re-educate him. Foxes? It had nothing to do that at all. It had everything to do with a class warfare attack on the rural, landed folk who allow people like me to shoot and hunt on their land. But guess what? The promised ‘repeal’ wasn’t delivered. So why should I trust the Tories to deliver this over another term? A tiny issue for many voters … but a huge one for me, a country hunter (and not of foxes). Now there’s the rub. I can’t trust Cameron on anything. Yet having watched Liz Truss from a distance rise from a local MP to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and commit to this repeal, I’m tempted. Not just because she is a hell of a lot more attractive that Cameron!
My day job, as a senior manager in the waste sector, conflicts completely with my extra-curricular activities in terms of the electoral process. Over the past ten years I have seen my sector (and much of British industry) swamped in EU directives which border on ridiculous. Waste Directives, Health & Safety Directives, Transport Directives et al, et al. Let me cut through the crap and give you a simple story which demonstrates my frustration. My commercial waste trucks (under EU & UK rules) operate under strict drivers ‘hours’ rules ensuring drivers get sufficient rest. We have to meet stringent vehicle service and presentation standards. Fair play. Our customers have to pre-segregate waste and put them in different bins. We collect several different waste & recycling streams (general waste, recyclables, food, glass etc). UK Local Authorities are ordered to offer household recycling options! EU rules? Go and sit outside a restaurant in Greece and watch what happens when the refuse truck turns up. A beaten-up old heap with bald tyres, a couple of operatives with no PPE or hi-vis empty all the bins into the truck (recycling and waste) to tip in a hole in the ground somewhere up in the mountains, while the driver sits smoking in his cab (banned by EU directives). So, all of a sudden, UKIP looks very appealing to me. I would love to shoot the hypocrisy of EU legislation into the back of one of my trucks and crush it.
I read Nigel Farage’s piece on the Countryside Alliance website tonight. It was appealing in it’s return to self sufficiency but I need help with this? This is the only party I have seen that seems to have a genuine concern about the open-border policy on immigration in the UK. Based in the East (I live in Norwich, work in Great Yarmouth) I have seen the region swamped with European immigrants over the past five years. Into an area where there are few jobs and even less spare housing. Driving out of Yarmouth to my home in Norwich today I was stuck in a traffic queue at road-works and passed an encampment just inside some woods. A small tent-city … in a Norfolk wood?
Have I mentioned Labour yet? Well, they lost me years ago. Well before the Hunting Act. Recently they have made some spectacular manifesto promises such as ‘stopping cruelty on hunting estates’ which confirmed to me that they don’t know what the definition of ‘cruelty’ is and assume that the death of any animal is ‘cruel’? I hope Ed Milliband stares long and hard at tomorrows bacon roll or Sundays roast beef.
So who do I vote for? Well, there is a long run-in yet and I’m open to any suggestions.
©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, March 2015