There will be few occasions in anyone’s lifetime where they will be privileged to witness the righting of a serious wrong. My generation has, perhaps, been luckier than most. We benefitted from some major historic amendments to injustice (the abolition of slavery being a prime example). The last century has produced a raft of improvements to freedom of individuals, not just here in the UK but worldwide. Much of the Equality & Diversity legislation we enjoy now can be attributed to radical actions of the brave souls who stood up and rallied against prejudice, bullying and oppression. The women’s rights movement, the demolition of apartheid, the civil rights marches of the Sixties, the workers strikes of the Seventies, gay rights parades … all contributed by raising social issues which needed addressing. This led to the social tolerance and balance we insist on now. Freedom of movement (within reason), minimum wage levels to stop exploitation, recognition that discrimination (on many grounds) is intolerable. Age, sexual orientation, race, religion, gender, mentality, disability. Anyone experiencing discrimination for these reasons has protection (if not in practice, certainly in law and legal recourse). So what point am I trying to make? Simply this.
That we should all have the right to live our lives without interference by way of prejudice.
For the rural (farming, hunting, shooting and fishing) fraternity the law has ‘pushed and pulled’ for the past seventy years. Few would argue that enactments such as the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 were necessary. Modern man, with his (and her) sporting armoury, had abused their position only a century beforehand. You only have to read the works of 19th century celebrity sportsmen (such as J. Wentworth-Day) to realise that although these folk were well respected naturalists they were prone to … well let’s just call it ‘over-excitement’, shall we? They put little thought to species balance and consequence. Common sense and legislation eventually put a curb on this while still recognising that there were three major aspects to retain.
Firstly (and these are in no particular order) – the fact that there is sporting and recreational value in culling some indigenous, reared or migratory wildlife. Secondly – that there is a whole industry reliant on such activity. Direct employees, suppliers, manufacturers, tourism, veterinary services, hospitality, stock and dog breeding. To name but a few. Thirdly – that there is a need to control some species for health, agricultural, conservation and forestry purposes.
Lets put aside the pheasant, partridge, grouse, rabbit, hare, woodpigeon and rat for a while. Let’s concentrate on the fox. An iconic British mammal and since the last wolf was killed our only natural ‘canine’. Or so it is mistakenly perceived. That is actually wrong. All true canines have the same genetic make-up as the wolf. Including all of our domestic dogs (yes … that monstrosity that won Crufts this year is a direct descendent of the wolf, like it or not!). Foxes have a different genetic model, but that’s ‘by-the-by’. The size of the red fox and its efficiency as a stealthy killer has long labelled it as a serious predator to be marked by the farmer, gamekeeper, shepherd and smallholder. Any true conservationist will recognise the vulpine threat to any ground nesting species (bird or mammal). This formidable reputation gave rise to the hunting of the fox. As with many rural challenges in bygone years (harvest time being a perfect example) landowners and their workers unified to marry the work that needed doing to a celebration. The fox hunt is as traditional to the British way of life as the Harvest Festival or the Maypole dancing on Mayday. It is as customary as Guy Fawkes Day (a very dubious celebration, given it’s sinister political motive).
Thus the traditional fox hunt evolved and hound packs were formed. Many activities like this need funding. Packs have to be fed, horses groomed, staff paid. Obviously then, the tradition has been upheld by folk and families who have worked hard to accumulate enough wealth to support this. Long may that continue. But in 2004, after a few years of Labour Party renaissance and under the guise of an animal welfare agenda, the Hunting Act 2004 was implemented. While clearly a ‘class’ issue (ridiculous as most hunt supporters, followers and workers are working or middle class) the attack on hunting was dressed up as an objection to hunting with hounds … specifically using hounds to kill foxes. Interestingly (just as an aside) many of the folk who objected to this in 2004 now support re-wilding lynx and wolves, who will rip apart foxes, deer and sheep.
Ever since homo sapiens first domesticated the wolf, man has used dogs to hunt. There is no more symbiotic partnership in history. Dogs are highly efficient killers, as is the fox, so they are worthy natural adversaries. The insanity of societal objection to fox hunting with packs is the acceptance that the fox is entitled to slaughter lambs, poultry and game. How hypocritical is that? Furthermore, why aren’t the objectors to fox hunting making the same noise about ratting with terriers or lamping rabbits with lurchers? We know the answer to that though, don’t we. It’s not fox protection that is in the objectors hearts. It’s the perception that fox hunting is funded exclusively by wealthy Tories.
We will almost certainly see the repeal of the Hunting Act soon and not before time. Another righting of a serious wrong.
I mentioned sexism, racism and ageism earlier. Isn’t it time the Equality & Diversity Acts protected another ‘ism’?
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, May 2017
A juvenile big-cat is washed up on the Pembrokeshire coast following a shipwreck and manages to survive in the Welsh hills undiscovered. As it matures, the cat is driven by a natural urge to head East. Its journey leaves behind it a trail of chaos and death, none at the claws of the beast. A female hunter decides to track the cat, intent on revenge. The story of Megan, the huntress, unfolds alongside that of the big cat.
Though the authorities try to stifle news of its existence, the cat saves a child and the press pick up the trail. Now known as ‘The Black Angel’, the big cat continues its journey East to meet its destiny. Now pursued, enraged and hungry … the cat makes its first human kill.
The cats epic trek is told from several perspectives. Through the eyes of humans, its hunter and directly through the eyes of the beast. Not just a story of a hunted predator but also a stalk through the rich flora and fauna of the British countryside from coast to coast at ‘cats-eye’ level.
For the cats pursuer the chase tests her resilience, her sexuality and her motive.
Who will survive, at the end. Hunter or beast?
Jaguar; The Black Angel can be downloaded from Amazon as either paperback book or e-book. Just click http://www.wildscribbler.com/books for details on purchase.
Copyright Wildscribbler March 2017
(Reprinted from Airgun Fieldcraft, 2016 and updated, Feb 2017. Excludes Scotland.)
The air rifle is a hugely maligned tool where the press and general public are concerned … and quite wrongly so. There are a reputed four million airgun owners in the UK. In the past it was a relatively unregulated gun so no-one really knows how many are out there, buried in attics or garden sheds. A handful of incidents each year by ne’er-do-goods, irresponsible morons or (tragically) youngsters who have stumbled on an unsecured rifle (and mis-used it) have given rise to calls in many quarters to either ban or license this superb and efficient hunting tool. As I complete this book (2017), Scotland has just introduced licensing for airguns. This, against advice from the senior representation of Scotland’s policing. In the face of reduced spending on policing, there is now a huge administrative burden dumped upon Scotland’s ‘finest’ by a crass and undemocratic decision. A decision based on misinformation and political bias, not common sense and statistics. If you’re reading this and live in Scotland, just bear one thing in mind. It could have been much worse. Many of your own folk wanted an outright ban on airguns, as do many misinformed folk across the rest of the UK. The advice below relates to legislation (as I understand it) in the UK excluding Scotland.
I firmly believe that this needs to be put into perspective. Personally, I would rather an 18 year old boy asked for an air rifle than a motorbike. His chances of survival to the age of 25 would multiply a thousand fold … and those of people around him. Analyse the illegal or tragic incidents surrounding air rifles and you will find two common factors. The transgressors are usually urban, not rural, individuals. They are usually not youths but idiotic (often drunk) adults. Deaths are usually due to children accessing airguns which should have been secured (and there was already adequate legislation for that. The shift in law to raise the legal age of ownership from 17 to 18 years of age, typically knee-jerk politics, ignored that latter fact. Licensing would be un-policeable, as Scotland will now find … especially regarding all those ‘hidden’ guns. Many readers will appreciate that shotguns have long been licensed. Events over recent years have proved that licensing is worthless in the face of individual, psychological behaviour … which changes with personal circumstance. In my own area, over the past year, two well respected and apparently sane men have shot first their partner, then themselves, with their shotguns following financial or relationship problems. Does that mean no-one should own a gun? That would be ridiculous. Misuse is true of not just guns but also motor vehicles. Yet, strangely, I’ve never heard a call for a ban on cars because some idiot decided to get drunk and kill someone while driving?
Despite all my comments above, I find some of the recent legislation completely sensible. The need for an airgun retailer to register an address. The need to sell ‘face to face’ via a registered firearm dealer (RFD) rather than through mail-order. It all helps to prevent future nonsense and mis-use. Some of the current laws (which apply to all form of shooting) are derived from common sense. Such as not being allowed to shoot across the boundary of your permission or having to carry your gun in a slip, with no ammunition in it, while passing through a public place. Simple safety-based rules. The addition of home gun security rules shouldn’t have effected most responsible air gun users … I’ve always lock mine away securely in a gun-safe. I hope you do too?
At risk of over simplifying the law, I’m not going to write a list of current legal requirements for ownership of an airgun. I am simply going to refer you to the experts … check for legal compliance with shooting organisations such as BASC (the British Association for Shooting & Conservation) or CA (the Countryside Alliance). You will find contact details at the back of this book. Whenever you read this book … from the date of first issue or in thirty years time, these organisations will have all the relevant data on current legal requirements. It is important that you learn these, as non-compliance can cost you financially and also risk a term at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
If you happen to be reading this in ten years time (2027), I just hope that all the lobbying and hard work that BASC, CA and the airgun press do on your behalf has paid off and you can, under the right conditions, still walk into a gun shop and buy an air rifle to control vermin and hunt for the pot.
It is perfectly legal to shoot grey squirrels, rabbits and woodpigeons at any time of the year on land on which you have permission to shoot. That is, land you own or where the owner has asked you to carry out control. There are, however, a number of things to remember to keep you on the right side of the law at all times. So, first of all, who can legitimately use an air rifle? There are age restrictions.
At 18 years or older there are no restrictions on buying an air rifle and ammunition, and you can use them wherever you have permission to shoot.
At 14-17 years old you can borrow an air rifle and its ammunition. You can also use an air rifle, without supervision, on private premises where you have permission to shoot but … you cannot buy or hire an air weapon, or ammunition, or receive one as a gift. Your air weapon and ammunition must be bought and looked after by someone over 18 … normally your parent, guardian or some other responsible adult. Nor can you have an air weapon in a public place unless you are supervised by somebody aged 21 or over, and you have a reasonable excuse to do so (e.g. while on the way to a shooting ground).
If under 14 years old You can use an air weapon under supervision on private premises with permission from the occupier – normally the owner or tenant. The person who supervises you must be at least 21 years old. You cannot, however, purchase, hire or receive an air weapon or its ammunition as a gift, or shoot, without adult supervision. Parents or guardians who buy an air weapon for use by someone under 14 must exercise control over it at all times, even in the home or garden. NB. It is illegal to sell an air weapon or ammunition to a person under 18 years of age.
Other legal aspects to remember include the following:
You may only shoot on land you own or where you have permission from the owner and within its boundaries. This is an important point because if you fire a pellet across the boundary of your land or permitted land, you will commit armed trespass! A crime with serious consequences and harsh penalties. This applies too if you cross over onto un-permitted land (trespass) carrying an air rifle. Even if it is unloaded, you are guilty of armed trespass.
It is an offence to possess an air rifle in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Common sense allows that some people may need to travel with a (covered) rifle but carrying permission notes or gun club membership is strongly advised.
It is illegal to discharge your air rifle within 50 feet (16 yards) of the centre of a public highway if, in doing so, you cause someone to be ‘injured, interrupted or endangered’. The first one means you’re in big trouble anyway. The latter two can include causing drivers or horse-riders to become distracted. So don’t wave a gun around near a public highway which, incidentally, includes public footpaths and bridleways.
An elusive beast unleashes her ferocity on the Brecon hillsides then sets off on a journey to find her destiny, changing forever the lives of all those who come in contact with her. The press have given her a name. The Black Angel. One of her casualties emerges as her Nemesis. Two huntresses, one journey … but which will reach the end alive?
For three days, since her last putrid meal of road-kill venison, she had laid close during daylight eluding her enemy. By night she had skulked and crept, searching out a fresh hunting ground. Lying here now a different, though memorable, scent made her huge heart race. It was blood. Placental blood. Every nerve in her lithe torso tingled. Her muscles tensed as she drank in the rich perfume.
A wild animal unleashes its ferocity on the Welsh hills and sets off a chain of events that will change many lives forever. A bi-sexual blonde huntress, the British countryside, a big cat with a flavour for human flesh and an errant Prime Minister. A fast paced thriller-noire that you just won’t want to put down.
See my ‘Books‘ page to buy.
Last weekend, a vivacious child called Bonnie Armitage died in a tragic accident when she fell from her beloved Shetland pony, Lindsay. She was just nine years old and, as any parents would be, her mother and father were heartbroken. As the news broke on social media, groups of anti-hunt activists (should I call these armchair cowards that?) began to pollute Bonnie’s memory with a series of vicious and cruel comments about the childs demise. Why? Because the accident happened at a meet of the Cotswold Hunt. I’m not going to repeat the comments made online (you can read some here) other than to say these twisted individuals decided to use a small girls death to further feed their misinformed vitriol. They attacked the parents for permitting their daughter to ride to hounds (on a legal and controlled hunting meet). They talked of ‘karma’, which was good as I’m sure they’ll meet theirs. Some idiot even asked why a nine year old was riding a pony? As a country writer and hunter, I welcome even-handed and healthy debate from both sides of the proverbial fence on country-sports matters. I can even understand that occasionally, passions will rise high on some issues. Try as I may, though, I just cannot fathom how anyone can be cruel enough to put the tragic loss of a young girl below the status of protection of a wild animal? There is a creeping sickness afoot, its vector for progression lying deep in the heart of a society who can stab itself cruelly from the tiny keyboard of a mobile device. Armchair ‘warriors’ who indulge in acidic sniping and learn the art of doing so within ‘140 characters’. Unfortunately, I can’t report that it is just the wildlife protectionists and ‘anti’s’ that do this. The pro-hunting side does too. Yet I have never, ever seen pro-hunting supporters stoop as low as the hunt saboteur fraternity did this week. Did they attack the parents of a young girl sadly lost in a ‘bouncy castle’ incident in Harlow the week before, for allowing her on the attraction? Of course not. Would they verbally abuse the parents of a child killed on an overturned school bus for allowing them to travel to school? Of course not. Hypocrites, pure and simple. That’s what these scum are. Jollied on with regularity by a succession of celebrities who also fuel the protectionism fire. Following the tirade against the Armitage family this week, I understand the police are investigating the online abuse aimed at Bonnie’s parents. If there is any justice, action will be taken. But what about the social media? What action will Twitter and Facebook take against such obvious and evidential mental cruelty and abuse? At a time when both media are openly challenging users with links to hunting and shooting, I doubt they will lift a finger against the Armitage protagonists. They will, ironically, argue for ‘free speech’. I doubt they will ever read this but I just want to add my condolences and support to Nick and Polly Armitage. You and Bonnie stand for a way of life that must persevere, for rural England to survive.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, April 2016
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
The grey squirrel has become rural enemy number one in recent years for good reason. Its relentless bark-stripping and nest raiding have put it firmly on the list of a “shoot-on-sight” species. Foresters, farmers and country folk have all evidenced its danger to tree cultivation and to resident songbird species. On shooting estates, predation of game-bird nests makes it intolerable. In some areas, local culls have been authorised (particularly to protect breeding sanctuaries for red squirrels) and the call for a national pogrom comes as no surprise.
So what about this estimated £10 million worth of damage to forestry annually? Grey squirrels attack the primary shoots of newly sprouted trees on plantations, which are rich in protein. Even when they don’t kill the sapling, it will grow misshapen and become a commercially worthless timber. The most serios crime, however, is indiscriminate ‘barking’ of trees. This involves stripping significant sections of bark from mature trees, usually over ten years old. Not to eat the bark itself but to extract nutrients and water from the exposed softer cambial wood beneath. Barking is usually done in late spring or early summer and where ring-barking (removing the bark from right around the trunk) occurs, the wood above the ring will die. The leaves are unable to photosynthesise as they have no water, so no food travels back down the trunk to sustain its life. Open wounds on a deciduous tree from bark removal can heal, but many are attacked by fungi, weakening the timber and leaving it susceptible to storm damage.
Never under-estimate the grey squirrels penchant for fresh songbird, game-bird and pigeon eggs or young chicks. Squirrels are omnivorous and are highly adept, curious, athletic climbers and jumpers. They will reach any food they set their sights on, we’ve all seen the ‘Mission Impossible’ type documentaries. The nickname ‘tree-rat’ is used often and, in my opinion, justified. Like the brown rat, they have little fear when feeding. On the ground they will boldly evict a bird as large as a pheasant and they will strip a pheasant or partridge nest of eggs within ten minutes. Greys will even tackle the nests of aggressive birds like the jay, hence they are mortal enemies. They are also a visible nuisance around bird tables, cleverly raiding feeders and seed left out for songbirds, bullying the birds away.
The grey rarely physically attacks the red squirrel, though this has been documented. Although both greys and reds have a bi-annual breeding cycle, similar sized litters and compete for the same food and territory … it was inevitable that the larger, more aggressive grey squirrel would push the red squirrel close to extinction in this country. One of the main reasons, however, has been because the grey squirrel is a vector for the squirrel parapox virus (SQPV, see separate chapter) to which it is largely immune but which is lethal to the more fragile red squirrel.
In many urban areas and parks, the grey squirrel is adored by the public. Perhaps understandably as it is a wild creature freely available for viewing by the public and in many cases, the only wild animal many children will get to see. Yet parkland and public spaces house few, if any, of the grey squirrels natural predators so they thrive unchecked. They lose their timidity and are so approachable that many can be hand-fed (so not wild in my eyes!). It will be interesting to see how Her Majesty’s Government and Local Authorities approach a request to cull these parkland animals and … if they do … how they tackle the job under the gaze of a distressed and protesting public? Of course, if they don’t get culled too, these enclaves will be the breeding ground for the re-emergence of the grey squirrel in rural areas.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Dec 2015