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BASC Wildfowling Conference
Report of 2007 Conference


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The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) held its 2007 Wildfowling Conference at Barnsdale Hall Hotel, Rutland, on 17th March. The event was a sell-out and a larger venue will clearly be required for the next event of this type. Wildfowlers from around the UK enjoyed a varied programme which would be of greatest interest to chairmen, secretaries and committee members of wildfowling clubs in view of the not inconsiderable funding opportunities presented by a number of speakers.

Ably chaired by BASC Wildfowling Liaison Committee chairman Lee Freeston of the Chichester Harbour Wildfowlers Association, the conference began with an appraisal of Wildfowling in the 21st Century by John Swift, the BASC Chief Executive, This gave an upbeat account of the challenges facing the sport as it exploited its "deal" with the public, improved its "contract" as represented by statute and regulations at flyway, EU, UK and regional levels, developed its "market" for space and examined its "governance" in terms of structures, partnerships, skills and leadership.

This was followed by an excellent examination of population trends and distributions amongst waterbirds in the UK by Richard Hearn of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Land use practices, site protection, hunting pressure and climate change were all identified as possible factors affecting population and distribution.

David Stroud of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee explained how various data were employed in decision making about SPAs and Natura 2000 sites. For waterbirds the monitoring of site condition has been aided by the development of the WeBS Alerts System which makes use of generalised additive models to produce smoothed indices of abundance, and is applied to assess trends on several spatial and temporal scales.

Part of the audience at the conference

The issue of climate change was then addressed in greater detail by Mike Harley of Natural England. Although many scientists would disagree with his claims about human influence on the cyclical process of climate change, the figures and predictions he presented did indicate the prospect of substantial shifts in ecological balance as the climate changes and the "climate space" required by some species causes changes in distribution.

Coastal access is an issue that concerns many wildfowlers and the presentation made by Bruce Cutts of Natural England set the scene for the forthcoming public consultation that would be conducted in England. It was clear, both from Bruce's talk and from questions and comments from the audience, that there would be the possibility of tensions between the government's desire to increase the access opportunities for the public to the coastal environment and, on the other hand wildlife conservation and wildfowling interests.

The morning ended with an open discussion with questions to a panel of speakers

After lunch there were two workshops on the matter of land purchases by wildfowling clubs. In the first, Alan Jarrett of Kent Wildfowlers and David Ilsley of BASC explored the question of finding land for shooting while, in the other workshop Gary Edwards of the Agricultural Mortgage Association explained the routes that wildfowling clubs could take to raise finance for land purchase.

The next session focussed on habitat creation with Paul Miller of the Environment Agency explaining that the Habitat Programme had been extended to include the Biodiversity Action Plan and that funding was available to help landowners improve inter-tidal and freshwater habitat. Using the example of the Blackwater Wildfowling Association's project at Brandy Hole, it was shown how wildfowling clubs could benefit through financial and technical support for suitable projects and that ongoing financial support was also available for site management through Natural England's Stewardship Scheme.

The final guest speaker of the day was Shannon Dolbel of The Crown Estate who told delegates how finance could be provided to wildfowling clubs for marine stewardship projects aimed at improving the management of Crown foreshore leased by them.

Shannon Dolbel explains how wildfowling clubs can get financial assistance from The Crown Estates

There was then a session in which the trustees of the Wildlife Habitat Trust sought views from the delegates about how the Trust might operate more effectively, finishing with an auction conducted to raise funds for the Trust.

Bill Notton encouraging bids at the auction