By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 13 2017 11:33AM
The partridge season started back in September and the pheasants joined them on 1 October. Both seasons run throughout winter to the end of January.
Last week I was in Salisbury talking to a gamekeeper of one of the small local shoots. I asked him whether things had improved for game suppliers in recent years given the increased interest in cooking and eating game. Surely with the likes of Tom Kerridge, Hugh F-W and Tom Kitchin all doing sterling work to promote game, the shoots would now be getting a decent price for the birds they produce? His answer shocked me. I was used to hearing that shoots were paid 50p to £1 for good quality birds “in the feather”. That number has apparently reduced to just 25p and, in some cases, the game dealers will do nothing more than take the birds away for free. In percentage terms, it’s a massive cut in price and, at worst, suggests there simply isn’t any market for the birds.
Less than 25p for a free-range, tasty bird that makes the perfect meal for one when a free range chicken in my local butchers is being sold for £15. What on earth is going on?
I’m afraid to say the problem seems to be one of over-supply. There are simply too many birds being produced meaning that, whatever the increased enthusiasm for game meat, there’s too much to go around. The temptation from some quarters will be, I’m sure, to blame “greedy toffs” (the Daily Mail’s go-to description for anyone who owns land) selling too much shooting to too many fat cats (ditto for anyone who pays to shoot) but I am sure the issue is more nuanced than that.
For many small farmers, shooting provides vital income which, as they are squeezed to provide ever-cheaper food and milk, is essential to ensure they stay in business. To me, the key problem is that the main income from shooting comes from those who pay to shoot, rather than to eat, the birds. A team of Guns could pay up to £750 pounds each for a day’s shooting where maybe 250 birds will be shot. But having paid all of that money, they will probably only take home a pair (brace) each for dinner. The rest will go to the game dealers, essentially as a by-product. So, in the hope of propping up a failing business, where farms are already forced to sell meat and milk at a loss to the supermarkets, millions of birds are being produced where the primary market is to shoot them rather than eat them. What an absurd state of affairs.
In my view, the solution is for shoots to (voluntarily) limit the number of birds they shoot in a day and focus instead on providing hospitality and a great day out in the countryside that people are prepared to pay for, regardless of the number of birds in the bag at the end of the day. Put it another way, if they keep producing more and more birds to the point that there is no market and the meat simply goes to waste rather than entering our food chain, the days for game shooting in this country will be numbered. Even as a fan of game and shooting, I’d find it impossible to justify, nor would I want to.
Economists would, I’m sure, be able to propose a win-win solution where people pay a bit more to shoot fewer birds which are then sold for a little more. But that analysis is best left to someone else with better qualifications than my B in GCSE maths. For the time being, however, the upshot is that there are loads and loads of really good quality gamebirds out there RIGHT NOW and we should all be eating them.
In his latest piece for Just About Dorset, Russell has produced a mouth-watering game dish that will be a hit with everyone, but I’d especially recommended it to anyone looking for an easy introduction to the tasty, exciting and undeniably good value world of game. I can’t reveal what the recipe is just yet, but keep an eye on the blog and get ready to be hungry...