By Mike Swan, Head of Education
Update: We have new advice for those in England following the changes made on 13 May.
The GWCT is fielding increasing numbers of calls from gamekeepers, and especially part-time amateurs, as to whether they should carry on their duties during the current coronavirus lockdown.
As most point out, they can continue to trap, feed, and control pests without any need for social contact. The GWCT would also argue that these activities are essential work, even when unpaid, in the conservation of a wide range of wildlife.
Supplementary feeding through what is still part of the hungry gap is a duty under many agri-environment schemes. It is a vital support to farmland birds like corn buntings, yellowhammers and grey partridges. It is also a key element of supporting wild breeding pheasants and redleg partridges, and a duty under the terms of the Code of Good Shooting Practice.
Springtime control of predators like foxes, stoats, crows and magpies is a vital element of good gamekeeping, and it supports a wide range of other ground-nesting birds such as lapwings, curlews and skylarks, as well as many other species of songbirds. Stopping this activity for a season would not be just a temporary blip, but a serious breakdown in an ongoing conservation programme. It can take many years of hard work to build a healthy population of many of these species, but just one season without predation control is likely to result in a near-total collapse.
So, the GWCT view is that all gamekeepers who wish to do so, from full-time professionals to amateur volunteers, should carry on their work, provided they can do so without enhancing the risk of transferring the virus. To prevent them from doing so would be an abdication of duty to our countryside and its wildlife.
Much of this work can be carried out without the need for firearms, and it is clear that current restrictions prevent recreational shooting. However, where the use of a gun is essential to control pests, or for humane dispatch, this is still allowed. Our colleagues at BASC have been in regular contact with government over this – for more detail please see the BASC website.