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Critics wrong to condemn country sports

The recent appearance of celebrity chef Rachel Allen with gun on arm and dressed for a day's shooting was nice to see, but of course it produced a predictable response from those who think meat should only arrive wrapped in plastic on a supermarket shelf.

The sight of anyone enjoying a healthy day out in the open air while taking part in the legitimate pastimes of hunting, shooting or fishing inevitably results in an outpouring of criticism from the minority who wish to ban these sports.

What really enraged the critics was the sight of a brace of pheasant lying on the bonnet of a large car behind a smiling Rachel, for the picture clearly suggested she had shot them.

Now, you may well ask why on earth Rachel, one of our best-known chefs, shouldn't shoot and cook pheasant, especially as it is one of our most delicious of game birds, but the problem apparently lies with the fact that she might have enjoyed doing so. It seems it is OK for her to cook pheasant or rabbit casserole on one of her TV programmes, but not to have shot them in the first place. Would the critics have preferred that the actual killing of the birds took place in some slaughterhouse, as is the fate of the millions of chickens we consume?

The pheasants we shoot enjoy a natural life out in the wild and for most of the year live as nature intended. They have to contend with foxes, feral cats, buzzards, mink, pine martens and other predators but, fortunately for them, those of us who shoot ensure that they have suitable habitats and a degree of safety in which to live and rear their young.

This provision of diverse habitat in turn benefits countless other species, for sportsmen and sportswomen are all conservationists at heart and without them the countryside would contain far less diversity and cover.

I often wonder if the widespread ignorance about the source of the food we all enjoy is a peculiarly Irish thing, for the French and most other Europeans revel in the chase, harvesting and eating of wild food.

Would the same outburst have occurred had Rachel been photographed with terriers out for a day's ratting among some straw bales in a farmyard? Probably, because while it's OK to condemn the rat, one of our most sensitive and intelligent mammals, to a lingering death from poison, it seems it is not politically correct to have a few hours fun hunting them.

It is idiotic to ignore the fact that all the meat we eat comes from animals that have to be killed as does the leather on our shoes, and the countless other products that are sourced from birds and animals.

We survive by harvesting the countryside and it is, of course, our duty to do so in a responsible and humane manner. Conservation and care of the countryside goes hand in hand with sport -- and has done so for centuries.

Valuable habitats that provide living quarters for thousands of species from woodcock to wood lice, bats, badgers and numerous song birds would not exist were it not for the efforts of those of us who enjoy country sports. The same applies to the maintenance of our rivers and lakes.

Fishermen are the most conscientious custodians of water quality and they ensure our waterways are kept fit for the fish, birds and other creatures that depend on clean water and the presence of insect and plant species. Those who shoot duck work through their clubs to create and preserve nesting habitats and also protect the birds from non-native predators such as mink.

Would the critics have preferred if Rachel Allen had been pictured landing a salmon along some river bank? But then what is the difference between shooting a pheasant and catching a fish? Both provide healthy and delicious food and if one enjoys a day in the woods or by the river while sourcing a meal for the family, then so much the better. I would certainly rather do that than queue in some supermarket.

So I would like to suggest that those who oppose country sports do something positive for a change and join the many sporting and conservation groups who will be planting trees during National Tree Week. The fresh air will do them good and it would be of real and lasting benefit to wildlife.

Indo Farming