Wildfowlers: ‘Pioneers of conservation’

Simon Reinhold, Assistant Director at BASC Central England. Picture: Supplied

Simon Reinhold, Assistant Director at BASC Central England. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

Wildfowling – the pursuit of ducks and geese below the high water mark on the foreshore – has been practised by humans in one form or another for millennia.

It is typically cold, muddy and the danger to life is very real if you misjudge the wind over tide or your ability to cross a piece of mud (ever been to Wells?)

It is, however, one of the most rewarding sporting experiences, both in terms of the effort one puts into sourcing a meal, and the spectacular environment in which you do it.

At the turn of the 19th century, wildfowlers began to express serious concern at the loss of wetland habitat to industry and farming. They were not the sort to shrug their shoulders or sign a petition. They took action and formed their own association (BASC as we know it today) to protect areas important to birds and their 'fowling.

They were conservationists before the term was fashionable and long before there were any votes in it. Sir Peter Scott, wildfowler and founder of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, is perhaps the most famous.

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Still today there are unsung heroes in wildfowling clubs along the coast of East Anglia who fight hard to protect their 'fowling, their heritage and the right to go down to the tide's edge for a shot, more in hope than expectation.

Inevitably, as part of my job representing shooting sports, I occasionally pay my respects at a funeral of one of these titans of wildfowling and conservation.

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The last one was awkward, and not just because I knew few people in the church. The presiding clergyman opened with 'Margaret was a devoted mother of five'. Now, if you're thinking 'that doesn't sound like your typical grizzled, frost-bitten 'fowler with teeth like a plate of burnt chips', you'd be right.

It turns out that Horsham St Faith has a church and a crematorium, both of which had the flames lit for 2.30pm that afternoon.

The challenge for me was getting to the other venue after performing a covert extraction through the heaviest door in Christendom – don't they ever oil those hinges?

For more visit www.basc.org.uk

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