Greylag goose (image: Flickr/nottsexminer)
Greylag goose (image: Flickr/nottsexminer)

The gunmen came today
We thought they’d gone
But they’re back
The gunmen

This was the beginning, in my head, of a poem. It was inspired, if that is the right word, by a shooting party staying near our home who were targeting geese in the surrounding fields and elsewhere in Orkney.

Somehow I couldn’t make the poem work. Perhaps it was a bit melodramatic for the subject matter, after all, we did not face gunmen ourselves in our home or school like some people in this world.

But the poem fragment stuck in my mind and got me thinking…

The shooting party were around through the autumn. Just before Christmas they disappeared and I was disappointed to see them back in January. Why?

Call me an English southern city softie but I don’t like to see geese blasted from the sky from our window, as happened one day.

The gun folk staying near us were carrying out a perfectly legal activity. But what is the satisfaction gained from killing an animal for sport? What about the possibility of geese being accidentally wounded but not found? Or rare and protected birds shot accidentally?

The shooting party were after greylag geese whose numbers have rocketed in Orkney in recent years. A count in August 2012, before migrants arrived from Iceland, found there were almost 21,500 resident in Orkney.

For the farmers the geese are a nuisance because they damage and eat crops. I have some sympathy for this view and the RSPB was one of the partners in a cull this summer. One of my Twitter friends, a farmer, would like, as I understand it, the law changed to allow more shooting to take place.

And having shooting parties visit Orkney provides a useful boost to the tourism industry, particularly to accommodation providers, many of them farmers, at an otherwise quiet time of year.

But, I can hear those of you who know me shouting, “you are a meat-eater!” Yes, I am, and though I am not about to give up meat I have increasing empathy for friends who are vegetarian or even vegan.

I tell myself that the meat I eat is, mostly, from animals who lived a good life followed by a humane death.

In that respect we are lucky in Orkney. There is a ready supply in butcher’s and village shops of locally-grown beef, and other meat – which also means we can be confident of avoiding horse-meat.

And when shopping I try to avoid buying meat, chicken for example, that is so cheap it makes you wonder how the animal spent its life.

There is a fascinating and enlightening blog on this subject entitled Ploverha, written by a couple who live on the Orkney island of Eday. They rear pigs which have a great life – but it is not a cheap way to produce food.

However, I’m not ready for a diet of just vegetables, so I will continue to eat meat.

And thankfully, the season for shooting ducks and geese ended on 31 January so peace has broken out around us – in more ways than one, because today, as I write, it is a calm and sunny day in our part of Orkney.

To find out more

Ploverha, Eday

RSPB: Greylag goose

British Association for Shooting & Conservation: Quarry species and shooting seasons

Published by Graham Brown

I am Graham Brown, author of this blog, an Englishman living in Orkney since St Magnus Day 2010. I’m married to musician, singer and songwriter Kathie Touin. I am a member of Harray & Sandwick Community Council and a Manager (committee member) of Quoyloo Old School (community centre). I volunteer with the RSPB. I was on the committee which restored Orkney’s Kitchener Memorial and created the HMS Hampshire wall. I belong to the Radio Caroline Support Group, Orkney Field Club and Orkney Heritage Society. I spent nearly 24 years at the BBC in London. Remember: One planet, don’t trash it.

One thought on “Killing

  1. What’s good for the goose….

    Roy Templeton
    Head of Communications
    BBC Scotland
    Room 2.30
    Pacific Quay
    Tel 0141 422 6315

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