Once upon a time
wildfowling held pride of place at the pinnacle of all shooting
sports. Pursued by gentleman gunner, professional fowler and artisan
sportsman alike, the ducks and geese of the estuaries and coastal
marshes captured the imaginations of generations of British hunters.
Lewis Clement, when he was editor of Shooting Times, adopted
the pseudonym “Wildfowler”. BASC started life as the Wildfowlers
Association. Many of the country’s most eminent naturalists were
also wildfowlers, their interest and expertise in the study of
wildlife deriving from hours spent with dog and gun below the sea
wall. The literature of our sport abounds with emotive and evocative
accounts of the romance and challenge of coastal fowling.
But times change. The question facing us today is whether
wildfowling can have a future to match its illustrious past? Can we
carry forward the heritage of the longshore gunner of the 19th and
20th centuries much further into the 21st? The signs appear to be
somewhat mixed and the stoic confidence of some contemporary fowlers
is balanced by the grim pessimism of others.
Certainly wildfowling has taken far more knocks in the past 25 years
than any other branch of shooting. Legislation has removed important
quarry species from the fowler’s list and placed a plethora of
senseless restrictions on his guns and ammunition. WAGBI, which was
essentially and primarily a wildfowling organisation has been
replaced by BASC, within which wildfowling is no longer the
undisputed top priority. With a few notable exceptions, wildfowling
clubs throughout the nation have seen dramatic reductions in
membership numbers and a general waning of enthusiasm. Tracts of
prime wildfowling foreshore have been purchased by protectionist
organisations and turned into no-shooting reserves.
At the same time, access to other forms of shooting has become
easier and less expensive. Roughshooting, small driven days and even
pigeon shooting can all be purchased from commercial agencies. It
seems that fewer enthusiasts are willing to rise from their beds at
ungodly hours in midwinter and face howling gales and stormy
foreshores in their search for sport. Young people not only have the
competing attractions of high technology entertainments and
round-the-clock television, they are also subjected to an insidious
flood of poisonous anti-fieldsports propaganda in their schools.
Some of those developments are probably irreversible. It is unlikely
that we will ever get lead shot back into general use throughout the
UK. Only the eternal optimist genuinely hopes to see the scaup,
curlew or Greenland whitefront back on the shooting list. The rabid
protectionists won’t crawl back into their pits and leave us in
But we simply cannot wallow in self pity and give up our sport.
No-one who has experienced the magic of watching teal flip over the
reed beds of a dawning estuary or who has marvelled at pinkfooted
geese battling inshore against the wrath of a January storm can
seriously contemplate depriving future generations of similar
privileges. The challenges and rewards of wildfowling far surpass
those of other forms of shooting; the inner peace to be found in the
tranquillity of a lonely foreshore simply cannot be found anywhere
else on our crowded islands; the romance and excitement known only
by the fowler are surely worth preserving. We have a rich
wildfowling heritage and we must fight to keep it alive.
I believe that the tide is turning and that much of the ground that
has been lost can be regained if wildfowlers throughout Britain show
determination and imagination.
Against the general decline in wildfowling clubs, there have been
some notable examples of successes and changes in attitude. Aided by
the Wildlife Habitat Trust, several clubs have made significant
purchases of foreshore and marsh and, in so doing, laid down an
asset base for the future. Clubs which were previously exclusive
organisations now advertise openly for members in the Shooting Times
On internet discussion forums small, but rapidly growing, numbers of
fowlers are debating the future of their sport and networking for
mutual benefit. Information about guns and cartridges, home loading,
wildfowl conservation and political threats is rapidly and
effectively exchanged. Indeed the concept of a “virtual” wildfowling
community may soon compensate for the decline of traditional fowling
Although it is true that wildfowling has been relegated within the
BASC to sit alongside gameshooting and deer stalking, wildfowlers
are once more becoming positively disposed towards the Association
and there is a growing awareness that the loss of lead shot or the
restrictions on shotgun magazine capacity were not so much failures
by the BASC as political imperatives emanating from Europe. I
foresee a day when fowlers will once more feel sufficiently
committed to the BASC to attempt to regain the ascendancy within the
halls of power at Marford Mill. I also believe that such a move will
also serve to re-establish the credibility of the BASC with other
conservation and governmental organisations in the UK.
These things are happening already and, with the support of
enthusiastic wildfowlers, can gather momentum and achieve success.
There is, however, one other area that requires to be tackled
urgently, an area upon which the future of fowling ultimately and
crucially depends. We must do far, far more to facilitate the
education and induction of young people. I do not wish to detract
from the existing BASC Young Shots programme or from small local
youth initiatives promoted by wildfowling clubs but, frankly, those
efforts do not go nearly far enough.
My eyes were opened a number of years ago when I first visited the
South Carolina Waterfowl Association in the USA. This organisation
is only a tiny fraction of the size of the BASC yet it runs a
comprehensive programme of residential summer camps for boys and
girls at its own excellent Wildlife and Wetlands Centre every year.
Those one-week long “Camp Woody” (the wood duck is the emblem of the
SCWA) experiences educate and provide practical experience in
shotgun shooting, wildfowl biology, ecology, conservation, water
adventures, game preparation and cookery, safety, fishing and many
other aspects of healthy outdoor pursuits. Above all else they are
great fun for the 200 youngsters who attend every year.
On a proportional basis the BASC would need to run around sixty
30-place one week residential camps every summer. A tall order in
the short term perhaps, but an objective well worth striving for.
Only by devoting resources of that scale to the next generation will
we secure the recruits our sport desperately needs.
I began by asking whether wildfowling in Britain has a future?
Personally I cannot contemplate a negative response to that
question. It must be acknowledged, however, that the wellbeing of
the longshore gunner’s sport depends very heavily upon individual
wildfowlers, their local clubs and their national organisation
taking up the challenge now and pursuing their objectives with
vigour, commitment and imagination.