One unanticipated side-effect of the recession here has been the virtual collapse of the commercial shoot that has been a bane of our lives for the last few years. Two or three times a week we were subjected to trailers of city folk, dolled up in pristine tweed, blasting birds out of the sky around the house. For our neurotic dog, it was like a perpetual Guy Fawke's Night.
This year even the obligatory Boxing Day convoy turned round and gave up as drizzle pelted down on the sodden fields. The once nightly 'lamping' activity, in which unlit 4x4s crept around the field edges, accompanied by the beam of red flood lamps and the crack of small bore rifles, also seems to be in abeyance.
We are often told that commercial shoots bring wider benefits to wildlife and the landscape, but these are hard to discern. The call of foxes in the woods was once a familiar sound at night. Since commercial shooting began foxes are no longer heard or seen, although the corpses of badgers appear from time to time, lying in fields where they fell, or slung over fences like refuse. Birds of prey are now rare too. Forlorn signs about lost dogs appear on gateposts for pets that have strayed off footpaths and not returned, and rumours of poisoned bait make owners wary. Conversely, the feed hoppers have brought a plague of rats.
Commercial shooting has meant changes to the landscape too. Rearing and release pens have appeared, together with feed hoppers made from day-glow blue plastic barrels. Rectangular stockades of straw bales and alien strips of maize are scattered across the downs like lego. Swathes of woodland have been cut down, whether to accommodate the birds or the guns isn't clear.
I suppose some jobs have been lost. I suppose I ought to mind.