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Scottish Wildfowling Under Threat
The traditional rights of Scottish wildfowlers are in grave danger. Eric Begbie explains.


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In Shooting Times, Ken Arkley recently highlighted the problems posed on the Humber by Natural England’s procedures for dealing with wildfowling consents (The Battle for Wildfowling, 16th September). He sounded a stark warning to all wildfowling clubs in England. 

However, it is not only in England that wildfowling is under serious threat. North of the border, where Scottish fowlers have traditionally felt that their foreshore rights were reasonably secure, there have been a number of recent examples which suggest that their wildfowling smocks are hanging on a desperately shaky peg. 

Most of the problems arise from the fact that the main strategy for controlling wildfowling on key estuarine sites in Scotland has been the use of Local Nature Reserves (LNRs). This model has been used at Montrose Basin, the Eden Estuary, Wigtown Bay, Aberlady Bay and the John Muir Country Park (Tyninghame Bay). In each of these cases the LNR byelaws ban wildfowling by prohibiting the carrying or discharging of guns and by prohibiting the killing or harming of any animal or bird. Having banned wildfowling in this way, the byelaws then give the Local Authority a discretionary right to issue permits subject to whatever conditions and limitations the Local Authority politicians decide. Altering those conditions or, indeed, deciding to issue no permits at all, does not require a change to the byelaws or any level of consultation or external approval. It is a purely political decision of the local council. 

Tragically, in bygone days when there was a high level of mutual respect between wildfowlers and other conservationists, some of those LNRs were actually promoted by wildfowling clubs. Those clubs are belatedly awakening to the dangers they now face. 

For example, daylight tideflighting has been banned at Tyninghame Bay. Tideflighting and moonflighting have both been banned at Montrose Basin and recent attempts to have moonflighting restored have been thwarted on the advice of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) who, in their correspondence with Angus Council, cite totally unsustainable disturbance concerns. This provides a prime example of the indisputable fact that, once we lose an element of our sport, it is exceedingly difficult to get it back. 

Perhaps the most dramatic threat is on the Tay Estuary. Currently the Inner Tay Estuary LNR covers just a small section at the eastern end of the area and there are, at present, no byelaws to enforce the “voluntary” no-shooting zone at Kingoodie Bay. However, the Management Plan for this nature reserve, recently published by Perth & Kinross Council and supported by SNH and RSPB, contains a specific objective of enlarging the LNR to include virtually all the prime wildfowling foreshore between Perth and Dundee. If this enlargement were to be allowed to proceed, there would inevitably be an immediate call by the protectionist bodies for draconian byelaws and extensive sanctuary zones which could, at a stroke, decimate the wildfowling opportunities on one of Scotland’s most iconic estuaries. 

Lest there be any doubt about the capacity of Local Authorities to summarily place additional restrictions upon wildfowling within those LNRs, the loss of a mile of prime wildfowling foreshore on the Eden Estuary this season establishes, once and for all, that fowling is in peril. (Shooting Times News, 2nd September). In this case Fife Council altered the permit conditions on the advice of a Countryside Ranger, supported by SNH. In the Ranger’s report, the main argument seemed to be that wildfowlers were incapable of identifying the high water mark and might inadvertently shoot on adjacent private land. This suggestion, apart from being a gross insult to the intelligence and integrity of fowlers, has serious implications for the future of wildfowling around the entire Scottish coast. 

Two years ago BASC’s Council adopted a policy statement averring that “BASC will oppose at all levels any restriction being placed upon wildfowling that is not, in the opinion of both the Council and its Wildfowling Liaison Committee, capable of being shown by clear evidence to be necessary for the future of wildfowling in the UK and the wildfowl and wildlife habitat on which wildfowling depends”. Never has there been a greater need for those fine words to be translated into powerful and effective actions. 

In particular, there is an urgent requirement for rigorous research, over a wide variety of site types, to support a challenge to the spurious claims of disturbance that are so often used to justify restrictions upon wildfowling. 

Throughout the UK the rights of wildfowlers are being systematically eroded. The future of our sport depends upon a strenuous defence of what remains.  

(Eric Begbie is a member of BASC’s Wildfowling Liaison Committee and is the Press Officer of the East of Scotland Association for Wildfowling and Conservation.)

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