After getting a parking fine, David Taylor of the Countryside Alliance appreciates even more the fact that shooting is self-monitored rather than controlled by box-tickers – for now, at least

The Countryside Alliance’s offices are based in Kennington, South London. On the surface, it seems to be an odd place to locate a rural organisation. But when you consider that the Houses of Parliament and the majority of the world’s media are within walking distance, it is well situated for what we need to do.

As you would guess, the area is very urban. Many of the local residents have never even seen the countryside, let alone understand what goes on in the ‘Old Town Hall’. Despite this, the office does try to get involved with the local community as much as possible, and this goes beyond frequenting the local cafes and drinking establishments.

For instance, each year the local church holds a harvest festival. This may seem out of place when you consider that there is not a cultivated field in the parish, but it is vital that everyone, urban or rural, understands the importance of where our food comes from. The festival is a great way to do this and the church usually puts on a great show with lots of farm animals. Over the past few years the Countryside Alliance has also arranged for some hounds to be taken into the church as part of the festivities. Many of the churchgoers don’t understand what hounds are for, as the only dogs they see are aggressive status dogs, so it’s nice to explain what they do and prove that not all dogs are threatening.

For one reason or another, this could not happen this year, but the church was still keen to have dogs so I was asked to bring mine along instead. I agreed, and on the day I drove in to London with my dogs in the car. Driving in London is always an interesting experience, but I managed to get to the office unscathed and my spaniels spent the day terrorising the office.

The harvest festival went very well. The local children were excited to see the dogs, and the dogs were even more excited about having so much attention. After the service I walked back to the car for my journey home, only to find I had been given a parking fine. I didn’t understand: I had a ticket, it was in full display, I was in the correct place and it was the right date. Then I read the small print – not valid without a number plate. This small slip-up cost me £40. I had a lot to say about traffic wardens on my way home, and none of it was pleasant. I was shocked how someone could be so cold-hearted to fine someone for such a simple, innocent error.

Fortunately, shooting isn’t like that. We have a very good way of regulating ourselves. That is not to say there is no legislation – there is, for both guns and quarry. But by and large we are given some wide parameters and as long as we stay within them we are fine. Take high birds, for example: one man’s high bird may be another man’s low bird. We leave it to the judgement of the individual to make the call, not a limit set by government. The same goes for bag numbers, releasing numbers etc.

The majority of people stay in the middle of these legal boundaries. But there will always be a few who, either though ignorance or greed, will push right to the edge. When this happens, the public have a canny way of finding out, and use these examples to judge us. The net result: a small number of people tarnish the reputation of the whole shooting community.

So how does anyone know what is acceptable and what is not? Simple: it is written in the Code of Good Shooting Practice. It sets a series of standards which promotes safe, sustainable shooting. The Code has been running for some years now and is agreed by all the shooting organisations. They are not strict rules dictating how to run your shoot, but rather guidance on best practice in the shooting field. It is also available to anyone, whether they shoot or not.

The Code is not only good for the continuation of shooting, but also shows to others, like the government, that we know what standards are acceptable within the shooting community. Without codes such as this, the government could create their own stringent rules and regulations for shooting. There are even anti-shooting groups who are actively pushing for this right now, knowing that the gradual tightening of legislation is the way to get shooting banned forever. The Code prevents such rules being placed upon us.

But let’s not forget that any rules set by the government would be pointless without active enforcement, so a new breed of enforcers would have to be employed. This group of people would monitor your activities and would not differentiate between a minor infringement or gross incompetence, as any broken rule will be a tick in the box for their annual quota. Yes, it really would mean traffic wardens for shooting – a very scary thought indeed.

For your copy of the Code of Good Shooting Practice, contact the Countryside Alliance. n