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Where Have All the Fowlers Gone?
asks Creekcrawler

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No - it's not a misspelling of the title of that old anti-war protest song by Peter, Paul and Mary. It's a worrying question to which we must find an answer if the future of wildfowling is to be ensured.

In the UK all shooting sports suffered a temporary setback as a reaction to the Dunblane Primary School massacre but the decline has now been reversed. Target shooting, clay pigeon shooting and, most marked, driven pheasant shooting are all reporting healthy increases in participant numbers. All except wildfowling.

Across the country it seems that, with a few notable exceptions, wildfowling clubs are struggling to maintain membership numbers and, in particular, are failing to recruit young people into the sport. And there is no evidence that coastal fowlers are moving out of the club system to pursue their sport on an individual basis. Indeed, as "free" public foreshore fowling rights progressively become harder to find, it is probably that an even higher proportion of wildfowlers than ever before now belong to clubs.

So, are there just fewer wildfowlers? If so, why? And what can be done to reverse the trend?

Traditionally, wildfowling was the front door to shooting sport for most working class recruits. Quite simply it was inexpensive, readily accessible and did not suffer from the "posh" image that bedevilled game shooting. Additionally, it had a romantic image that attracted many professional adherents and it had a firm reputation for conservation that brought in many bird lovers. It presented a range of real challenges that other forms of shooting lacked. It was, perhaps, the one branch of shooting where factory worker, miner, teacher, doctor and ornithologist could rub shoulders, united in a common purpose and with a common love and respect for their quarry. Out in the wilderness of a winter estuary, snugly ensconced by the pre-dawn darkness, the colour of one's collar neither mattered nor could be seen.

Has our society just become too affluent? Are folk able to afford expensive pheasant shooting that makes no demands upon their fieldcraft? And how would that stand up against complaints about BASC fee increases and the cost of non-toxic ammunition? Are we going soft - no longer willing to get out of bed at 5.00 am on an icy January morning? Has the centralisation and bureaucratisation of the former WAGBI (now BASC) led to a disappearance of the fellowship and camaraderie that once typified wildfowlers? Have the multi-million campaigns by PETA, aimed at flooding our schools with anti-fieldsports teaching packs, poisoned the minds of our children? Have fowlers become dispirited by the repeated failures of BASC to protect traditional elements of our sport? Have we kept the attractions of wildfowling under a bushel and do the public simply not know enough about it?

There are so many questions, so many possible explanations.

The BASC has a Wildfowling Liaison Committee that, I imagine, must be alarmed by the disintegration and decline of wildfowling as a popular sport. It is their job to find the answers to the questions, tease out the explanations, devise plans to counter the threats .... and put those plans into operation. FAST!

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