COUNTRY LIFE Country with Sam Biles living Picture by Ben Wood Island Images www.islandimages.co.uk The shooting season is once more upon us, tweeds and waterproofs will see the light of day after months in the bottom drawer, trusty gundogs will prick their ears and the Island's woods will resound once more to the gentle tap of the beaters' stick and the sound of guns as game birds run the gauntlet of the line. To those whose life experience has not included traditional English game shooting the rituals of the shooting field is an unknown mystery. The sheer range of shooting that the Island has to offer is vast. There are clay shooting clubs, rifle clubs and game shooting ranging from pigeon control over winter oilseed rape through informal walked-up farmers’ shoots, to the grandest of days on some of the finest shooting ground in the South of England where captains of industry, royalty and celebrities are all pleased to receive an invitation. Some believe that shooting is elitist, male-dominated and only practised by the very rich and on some large shoots this can indeed be the case. On the Island, more often than not it is the complete opposite. Bea ters will often include retired businessmen, wives, families, students, farm workers and the unemployed. The ‘pickers-up’ who bring their dogs to collect fallen and lost birds; include a high proportion of women, doctors’ wives, farmers and others who simply love to see their dogs work as they were bred to do. The guns on the average Island shoot will include farmers, business people, plumbers and builders. This is a real cross-section of the community; coming together without social boundaries. They come to enjoy a day out in the country; to participate in a traditional way of life, from a young man coming beating with his new dog Email: email@example.com 70 www.visitislandlife.com to a nonagenarian who can still tap his stick at the corner of a wood whilst recounting stories of shooting before the war to anyone who has the time to listen. Sporting potential is something that really augments the value of a farm or block of land, whether it is woodland, high ground or a flight pond for duck. Benefits to the Island’s economy are not inconsiderable, employment for keepers and beaters, hotels, caterers and pubs all benefit to say nothing of shops selling cartridges, dog food, clothing and shooting equipment. Land managed for shooting is by definition managed for conservation – hedges, copses and cover crops planted for game birds inevitably provide habitat and food for a myriad of wildlife from songbirds to dormice and red squirrels. I can’t help but think that the Island’s landscape would be the poorer if landowners keen on shooting had not managed the countryside over generations with this in mind. In a free society such as ours some will hold the opinion that an activity which involves killing animals for sport is unacceptable and they are of course entitled to their view. Others see no harm in the harvesting of animals for food from a ‘free range’ environment. The fact that it takes some skill to dispatch a pheasant at 30 yards could be argued to give the bird a better chance and a better life than that of many a battery chicken.