IT HAS been used for centuries by wildfowlers pursuing the country tradition of bagging a bird for the pot.
But plans by Scotland’s leading bird charity to ban shooting on land it recently acquired on the Solway Firth coast has brought it into conflict with followers of the ancient sport.
RSPB Scotland bought a large area of saltmarsh and floodplain at the Crook of Baldoon on Wigtown Bay in 2010. They are urging the local council to introduce bylaws banning shooting along 75 per cent of the coastline it owns.
But wildfowlers claim that because a £200,000 grant from Scottish Natural Heritage went towards the cost of buying and developing the land, the charity is using “public money to take away public rights”.
Donald Muir, events and training officer for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) Scotland, said: “We are working with wildfowling clubs around Wigtown Bay to ensure that one of the best wildfowling areas continues to be available to local and visiting shooters.
“When the RSPB bought the land with a £200,000 grant from SNH, they knew that wildfowling took place on the adjacent foreshore, that this was a public right and that it was an important source of income to local hotels and bed and breakfast businesses during the winter months.”
The local council, Dumfries and Galloway, appears to be moving away from regulated wildfowling in favour of the RSPB’s “no shooting” option.
“Wildfowlers, local businesses and some councillors are furious that public funds were used to support this RSPB land purchase that is now driving restrictions on traditional wildfowling,” Muir added.
Wildfowler John Barbour said when the land, on the west side of Wigtown Bay, was privately owned, there was no problem securing a permit to shoot on it. He said: “The RSPB do some good in certain areas but they have come here with jackboots on and they have said ‘right, there is no shooting on the whole of that area’. But what about us?”
The 51-year-old, who moved with his wife to the area from London because of the quality of wildfowling, added: “They have had public money to help take away something that is a public right.”
Barbour also pointed to the long established tourism benefits of wildfowling, which takes place in the quieter winter months. “It goes back hundreds of years,” he said. “I have been coming here since 1984 and I know people who have been coming for 30 or 40 years – it is just a unique bay.
“Through the winter most of the incoming economy is from wildfowlers.”
The land at stake is a 10 metre strip of foreshore at the front of the 370 acres (150 hectares) owned by the RSPB. A full planning committee meeting of the council is due to vote on the issue in March after a sub-committee recommended support for the RSPB-backed plan for a bylaw over 75 per cent of the strip.
Wildfowlers say it is not in their interests to decimate bird numbers. Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “It would be a real shame if wildfowling in the area was to stop, given its history and benefit to local businesses. It has been a way of life for many.
“The great majority of individuals who participate have a keen interest in conservation and enjoy the sport in accordance with the rules. They understand the need for balance and it is in their interests, or their sport would not survive.”
An RSPB spokesperson said the foreshore at Crook of Baldoon is a very small part of Wigtown Bay and there were already “extensive” shooting rights for wildfowlers elsewhere. The charity expected their plan would increase wildfowl numbers in the area.
The spokesperson added: “Whilst it is correct that the development of the nature reserve has been supported in part by SNH funding, we expect the significant financial investment in the proposed nature reserve at Crook of Baldoon to contribute over time to the local Galloway economy, as part of a wider network of wildlife attractions, which are already a major tourism draw to the area. The wildfowlers on Wigtown Bay have also created an area of wildlife habitat for which they received similar SNH grant aid.
“We take no issue with this use of public funding, which we accept as improving habitat conditions for local wildfowl populations, as we are also seeking to do at Crook of Baldoon.”