Wildfowlers warned - hide your guns

WILDFOWLERS have been warned to carry their guns in weapon cases on public paths alongside the River Orwell – or face prosecution.The warning comes after a man walking near Levington Creek at dusk was frightened when three men in camouflage gear walked towards him on the footpath carrying 12-bore shotguns.

WILDFOWLERS have been warned to carry their guns in weapon cases on public paths alongside the River Orwell – or face prosecution.

The warning comes after a man walking near Levington Creek at dusk was frightened when three men in camouflage gear walked towards him on the footpath carrying 12-bore shotguns.

The hunters were carrying guns openly and startled the walker, who has asked not to be identified.

And police have warned wildfowlers could be arrested for carrying unconcealed guns – even when there is no danger to passing pedestrians.

It was quickly apparent the were heading for a bird shoot, but the ambler has demanded hunters conceal their guns to prevent others being frightened.

He said: "It gave me quite a fright when I suddenly looked up and there in the middle of nowhere were three men carrying guns heading towards me."

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"How can it be right that people are allowed to carry weapons like that on a public footpath where families could be walking?"

Two clubs have leases for shooting ducks and geese on the banks of the Orwell during winter with dusk or dawn the most popular times.

Sgt Mick Richardson, of Felixstowe police, said there had been no reports of incidents but promised complaints would be investigated.

He said: "People should not be walking around in a public place with any form of firearm because they run the risk of possibly being arrested."

"You can buy gun cases and I would strongly suggest that it is advisable these days that if you have to move a gun in a public area to somewhere, even if it is a short walk to take part in a shoot, to use one."

It is an offence under the Firearms Act to have a loaded air weapon or any other firearm, whether loaded or not, in a public place.

The act applies to public rights of way and to permissive paths.

Kevin Butters, chairman of the North Orwell Shooting and Conservation Club, said wildfowlers were responsible people who had licences for their guns and had to belong to the club to shoot on the banks of the river.

He said: "It is getting pretty ridiculous the way people go on about guns – we have even had the police called when we have been carrying a gun across a farm field on a legitimate shoot."

"Wildfowling is a country pursuit. I think people read too much into these things – they think everyone with camouflage on is a villain. They see things like Hungerford on the TV and get the wrong idea."

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CONSIDERABLE stamina and patience are hallmarks of a wildfowler, who may sit camouflaged, dog at his side, on a wet, muddy marsh for hours – and never fire a shot.

Shooting ducks and geese is a sport which goes back centuries with its roots in the rural traditions of killing game for food, living off the land to survive.

Those hunting in our estuaries today are after wild geese and ducks, mostly migrants, travelling from the Arctic circle and Scandinavia in autumn and returning to their breeding grounds in the spring.

Wildfowlers – who have an intimate knowledge of the wild and dangerous coasts and estuaries – have never attracted the furore of other country sports, such as hunting with hounds.

Trimley Marshes nature reserve warden Mick Wright declined to discuss the rights and wrongs of shooting birds – but said management of the sport in the area is first class.

The Suffolk Wildlife Trust has excellent relationships with wildfowlers using the rivers Orwell, Alde and Ore.

Mr Wright said his main concern was to limit the shooting to avoid disturbance to the birds – either displacing them away from the rivers, or sending too many into the air at one time, causing panic and damage among flying birds.

He said: "It is a legitimate sport and my aim is to work closely with the people involved to make sure that conservation work is protected."

"There is good liaison with the wildfowl clubs and I just wish that all groups were as well organised as they are.

"The clubs are the best policeman on the river because if there are cowboy shooters out there they find them and then they can be dealt with and stopped. We don't want cowboy shooters any more than they do.

"They eat the duck they kill and they don't overshoot because that's not in their interests. In fact, I wouldn't say that they kill that many birds at all."

Two clubs have leases from Ipswich Borough Council to shoot on the banks of the Orwell – the River Orwell South Shore Club and the North Orwell Shooting and Conservation Club.

Kevin Butters, chairman of the North Orwell club, said the group had about 15 members who did not exploit the birds on the river and followed all the national association rules and Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Although the season starts in September, members did not shoot until October until the nights start to draw in and most members of the public are no longer walking the shores and footpaths.

Most shooting took place a little after dusk or just before dawn.

"Wildfowling is a country pursuit and our members are interested in conservation. We don't kill large numbers of birds, it's not detrimental to the bird life or wildlife of these rivers at all," said Mr Butters.

"The reason the club was formed in the first place was to stop illegal shooting on land adjacent to the river and ensure it can be effectively controlled. People were coming from all over the country to shoot before you had to be a club member."

WEBLINKS: British Association for Shooting and Conservation – www.basc.org.uk


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