As the Glorious Twelfth rolls around, Darren Brown of Shellseekers Fish & Game talks about why shooting game is essential to the countryside
I believe that if you’re going to eat an animal, you should be prepared to see it go. As a society, we have become wrapped up in cotton wool; instead of going out hunting, gathering and bringing food back to the table, we just pick it up from a shop.
Some people can be squeamish about eating game. When I point out that they eat other meat, they say “that’s different”. Why? Because it comes wrapped up, no longer looking like the animal it came from.
But when you know where something’s come from, it puts value on the end product, and you appreciate it more. We need to bring people back to basics, through education. There are kids in London who don’t even know that milk comes from cows.
A very delicate system
In the countryside there’s a very delicate system, which humans are left to manage. Shooting deer is part of that. There are no natural predators in Britain anymore, so if we didn’t manage the herd properly, it would wreak havoc.
If you don’t cull the females, the herd doubles in size each year, and if you don’t take out the stag every so often, he breeds with his daughters, his granddaughters, and you see genetic problems developing.
Gamekeepers also help to control the environment by maintaining hedgerows or planting game crops. By managing their habitat, we allow game birds to thrive in the wild. With grouse, for example, we burn back the heather so that it regenerates, and we manage the fly population so that the young chicks have enough to eat.
Put something back
We put something back, we don’t just take. It’s all about maintaining a happy balance throughout the countryside.
Some people think that shooting is cruel, but it isn’t. When I hunt, the animal doesn’t know I am there and it is taken out instantly. One shot, one kill. We impose what we call ‘fair game’: if a bird flies high enough, I don’t shoot it; if a deer looks up and notices I am there, I don’t shoot it.
The first female deer are hunted in November, and they will usually have had their young back in June; if you shot the mother, her young would be big enough to survive. But I will always take the youngster out before the female—I won’t leave an orphan. The Scottish insist on that policy.
The game industry is strictly regulated, and it’s highly selective in its impact—unlike mass production of meat and some methods of fishing, which smash up the environment. It also gives the country a lot of work and brings money into small rural communities. It’s essentially wild farming.
If the animals we shot were just thrown away, that would be a terrible waste. And that’s why we come to Borough Market. If we shoot an animal, we should eat every part of it. Humans are at the top of the food chain and it is our responsibility to keep everything below us properly managed. We mustn’t take that responsibility lightly.