A report in the Daily Telegraph has highlighted what it describes as the way in which many people are apparently “running scared”, when it comes to admitting their love of country pursuits in general and field sports in particular. It offers up as evidence how many of those who are listed in the annual publication of Who’s Who, no longer include shooting, fishing or hunting among their pastimes. Where once the pages of this weighty directory of society’s movers and shakers, positively groaned with listings of grouse shooting worthies and Masters of Foxhounds drawn from among our noblest families, now it appears that by way of leisure activities many apparently spend their idle hours hunched over an Xbox or watching Love Island. The newspaper ascribes this change to a widespread fear among their number of provoking the disfavour of the ‘woke’ generation, who as we all know choke on their Tofu at the very mention of game shooting. There is likely to be some truth in this. Anyone in the public eye who favours a quiet life treads very carefully these days around a whole list of topics for fear of triggering a veritable shit storm of disapproval, largely voiced via the idiot’s favourite medium, Twitter.
However, whilst there is substance to what the Telegraph says it is only part of the truth. The uncomfortable reality is that traditional fieldsports are in decline. That they are so is due far less to ‘woke’ induced squeamishness and rather more to what might be described as reasons arising from modern life. Take coarse fishing. 50 years ago, the sport boasted more than 5.5 million participants. Current estimates suggest there may be fewer than 1.5 million. Whilst many explanations are offered for this change there is total agreement within the ranks of anglers that there are fewer young people taking up the activity. And why? Because traditionally young men (and it remains essentially a male activity) are introduced to the sport by their fathers and/or older male family members and increased rates of divorce and family dislocation have had a huge impact on that process. The same is also true of shooting. And then there is the way in which all field sports differ from most other leisure activities in that the time they demand does not sit easily in a world where work perforce is the priority. There is some comfort to be drawn in all this and that is that the rate of decline of involvement in all three field sports is a shallow one. Despite the constant barrage of propaganda which daily serves up a sickly diet of oooh-ah anthropomorphism through a mist lens of sentimental clap trap, there remains a strong core of supporters willing and able to pass on their skills and enthusiasms to newcomers, just as soon as they can be torn away from their joysticks.