Over 143,000 countryside lovers headed to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire from 18th-20th of July for one of my favourite shows on the year, the CLA Game Fair.
The show, now its 58th year, was billed as the celebration of the Great British Countryside, with 55,000 metres of trade stands, talks, demonstrations and dozens of have a go opportunities.
The three-day event brimmed with country enthusiasts, politicians and celebrities keen to enjoy the huge range of attractions and browse the multitude of exhibitors.
The CLA brought the health and the future development of the countryside to top of the agenda with debates between political and industry leaders.
Alastair Balmain chaired an impassioned discussion regarding the importance of shooting and fishing to the rural economy. This examined the recent report from Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC) on the ‘Value of Shooting’.
Richard Ali, chief executive of the British Association for Shooting Conservation said “The PACEC report shows that shooting is good for the economy, good for jobs and good for the countryside – and we’re good at it as Olympic gold medals show.
“The contribution of shooting to the UK is clear. This should be recognised and policy should support and encourage the good which shooting does.”
In another debate I sat in on, titled The countryside would be better off if we left the EU, CLA deputy president Ross Murray clashed with UKIP leader Nigel Farage, accusing him of promoting a “little England” approach to support which lacked logic.
The debate saw the two grappling over the issue of restricting payments to farms over a certain size. “There is no logic to capping,” Murray said. “We have the most efficient farming industry in Europe and part of that comes with scale.”
Probably the most popular debate of the day, Mr Murray told an audience of more than 300 people that the argument British farmers could survive without support from Europe is a fallacy. “If we opt out of the EU our exports will be cut to shreds and we will be completely at the mercy of the supermarkets who will always buy on price. Quite simply, we will not be able to compete against other farmers in Europe who will still be receiving public funds.”
Murray also questioned whether we could ever totally rely on a UK Government to support the countryside saying ”We countrymen have to look after ourselves and be grateful for the support that membership of the EU brings to our businesses.”
The UKIP leader told the audience that we should run our own country and run our own agriculture.
Farage said “The effects of leaving the EU in the short term would be negligible, but in the long term there is a big benefit to us being outside the EU. We can get the British public onside and interested in farming and understand what we are doing – currently the debate on agriculture has reached an all-time low.”
Ian Coghill, chairman of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust summed up the debate saying there was no “perfect method” of governance, but that we needed to make the most of what we’ve got.
“Is the EU bad for the countryside? Yes. But you can substitute any government for the EU and the answer would still be the same,” he said.
Rural broadband was also a hot topic with Henry Robinson who opened the President’s debate rightly saying, “If rural businesses are to thrive, they not only need access to broadband, they need access to good quality broadband. That is why we are calling on the Government to create a universal Service Obligation of at least 10Mbps.”
Suffering with Internet speeds of just 0.14Mbps at my home, which is often not even enough to send an email, I fully support the campaign but sadly do not see improvements being made anytime soon.
Mr Robinson continued, “We also urge the Government to stop gold plating rules around CAP payments and start providing some clarity so that we can compete with EU member states.
Minister George Eustice responded to the calls on CAP payments saying the Government had tried to make the system simpler but had failed.
He said: “The new CAP reform is a step backwards but we are working on a more flexible system which will also help improve biodiversity and water quality.”
Newly appointed Defra secretary, Lizz Truss made her first public outing at the Game Fair where she was able to meet farmers and landowners and discuss issues that concern them.
The CLA Game Fair is the most extensive shooting exhibition in the UK. Whatever your interest or level of experience there is something for everyone. Each year I find myself in Gunmakers Row fantasising over the very best guns from all over the world that I tell myself I will one day own, but most certainly never will.
Man’s best friend plays a huge role in the event with hunts and their hounds proudly parading, gundog competitions and terrier clubs exhibiting.
One demonstration I particularly enjoyed was by lurcher enthusiast Nigel Varney.
This included working dog and ferret together and also training as a multipurpose dog. This lurcher was able to retrieve on the whistle perfectly. Dogs do not need to be restricted to their breed stereotype considering their level of intelligence. A dogs ability should never be underestimated, although perhaps not over estimated either which I learnt the hard way after trying to train my terrier as a sheepdog.
For the first time in the shows 58-year history, it was great to see the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs with a stand at the event. This featured a new game created by the NFYFC Young Forum to educate people about where their food comes from. Their purpose was to promote the valuable work that they do for the countryside whilst encouraging more young members to sign up.
With kids going free to the Game Fair to try and encourage young interest, there was the opportunity to learn about a variety of fieldsports including archery, falconry, air guns and fly-fishing to name just a few. Many of the free lessons available to youngsters were fully booked along with competitions including young shots and junior dog handler.
CLA Director General Helen Woolley commented: ‘The feedback we have received already for this year’s show has been extremely positive and has emphasized the CLA Game Fair as the Showcase event for the countryside.’
I think the shear volume of visitors illustrates just how much support the countryside has behind it. The Countryman, and of course the Countrywoman, are by no means, a dying breed.