Simon Hamlyn: A mouthwatering taster for country sports

Game shooting makes a massive contribution to conservation.

Game shooting makes a massive contribution to conservation.

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POT-roasted pheasant with cider and celeriac, venison kebabs with yoghurt and cucumber marinade, rabbit lasagne, pheasant curry... feeling hungry yet?

The popularity of wild game meat shows no sign of abating, with sales of venison, pheasant, partridge and grouse reaching £47m by the end of 2006 and forecast to reach nearly £90m during this year.

And game is very good for you – it is wild, natural and free range – it is low in cholesterol and high in protein and is one of the healthiest meats available.

The Countryside Alliance Foundation, our charitable arm, has been working very effectively – along with others – in the past few years to promote game meat to a wide audience through its game-to-eat campaign, with impressive results.

Working with shoots, game dealers, butchers and retailers game-to-eat has helped reconnect thousands of consumers with the great taste of game and long may that success continue.

The significant majority of all wild game is harvested through one of the many types of shooting, where the ultimate objective for any shooter, whether they are involved in driven game shooting, deer stalking, wildfowling or pigeon shooting, is to put food on the table in a sustainable manner and with complete respect for their quarry. Research in 2007 showed that 99 per cent of all shot game went into the human food chain.

Shooting in all its forms is becoming popular and more accessible with over 500,000 participants involved in live quarry shooting in the UK – the total number of shooters of all disciplines approaches one million. Might you like to join them?

The Countryside Alliance is committed to increasing participation and understanding of shooting yet further. A great way of introducing newcomers to shooting is through National Shooting Week which starts on Saturday.

During this week, clubs and ranges throughout the country will open their doors to the public and lead participants through their first shots – and who knows, some budding Guns may be moved to take up sport shooting or get into game shooting as a result of their first experience. Target shooting is an exciting Olympic sport that is suitable for all ages and abilities. Great in its own right, it is also an addictive first step towards trying game shooting.

The economic and conservation benefits of game shooting would inspire anyone: shooters spend £250m a year on conservation (five times the annual turnover of the RSPB). They spend 2.7 million work days on conservation activity on their shoots, which is the equivalent of 12,000 full-time jobs.

Between John O’Groats and Land’s End, two-thirds of that rural land area – 15 million hectares – is managed for shooting. Over two million hectares are actively managed for conservation, solely as a result of shooting, dwarfing the 88,000 hectares of National Nature Reserves and 80,000 hectares managed by Wildlife Trusts.

Economically, live quarry shooting is also a heavy hitter, with participants spending over £2bn each year. The value of shooting in all its forms is worth £1.6bn annually to the UK economy, boosting rural communities and economies during the winter months when tourism is at a lower ebb.

While shooting makes a substantial economic and environmental contribution, it also helps other causes, and in 2004 shoots donated in excess of £7m to local charities.

If we leave the UK scene and turn more locally to Yorkshire, the picture is just as encouraging – shooting and conservation in the region is worth £110m annually to the local economy and supports the equivalent of 4,400 full time jobs. In comparison the value of fishing (both coarse and game) is worth £75m and supports the equivalent of over 3,000 full-time jobs.

With the number of TV chefs increasingly using and advocating eating game, shooting will continue to flourish and supply hungry consumers with nature’s harvest.

The link is there: taking your first shot at a clay during National Shooting Week could see you become passionate about sporting shooting – it could also see you moved to try game shooting, going on to bag your first pheasant, partridge or pigeon amongst Yorkshire’s glorious rural scenery.

However you enjoy your first experience of shooting and your shooting life from then on, you will be appreciative that the Countryside Alliance’s National Shooting Week may have showed you the way and motivated you to try one of the most invigorating, satisfying and most popular rural pastimes in the country.

Now where was I – ah yes – grilled spiced pheasant with mango and mint dressing, pan-seared breasts of pheasant with smoked bacon and figs, venison stir fry...

All recipes mentioned are from the Countryside Alliance Foundation Game to Eat web site. National Shooting Week runs from May 28 until June 5 – more details are available at www.nationalshootingweek.co.uk.

Simon Hamlyn is regional director of the Countryside Alliance.

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