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CLA Game Fair Report 2015, but what for the future?

My report on the CLA Game Fair 2015 is later than intended this year. No other reason than other things got in the way really, but it seems almost fate when you consider the news that reaches us this week, but more of that later.

This year we were hosted by Harewood House, halfway between Harrogate and Leeds, right at the junctions of the A1, M1, M18 and M62. Right in the hub of West Yorkshire. The event was cancelled at this venue in 2007 for the first time ever after the wettest summer on record, and as I arrived on the Thursday evening to a wet, sticky and slippery exhibitors entrance, all was not looking great. Thankfully there was no repeat of the previous misfortune.

I was working as usual on the stand belonging to the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

It’s an arrangement that I have had with them for the last few years, I act as their official photographer for the event, oncall for the first two days, in return for some stand space to promote Over & Under Sporting Photography.

I have been a Trade Member of the Trust for a number of years now. I feel that the work they do is incredibly important – there are many emotive and passionate arguments that rage about the future of our sport, but the GWCT is the one organisation that leads the way by employing proper and sound science to build a sustainable future for shooting and wildlife in tandem.

Entertaining and Informing the Shooting Press

It is a bit of tradition now for the GWCT that Friday morning at the CLA Game Fair is “Press Briefing” time. There is normally a Bucks Fizz reception, with bacon rolls, and there is normally a good turnout from the media for networking and chat. This year there was talk of best practice with medicated grit and a contingent from Smithsgore to talk through the results from the Shoot Benchmarking scheme.

The GWCT stand is always a draw for the press and media, not only for the informative briefings but also for the WiFi hotspot running over satellite broadband that has been supplied to the Trust for the last 2 years by C&R Technologies.

Inspiring and Informing The Decision Makers

An important part of the work undertaken by the GWCT is that it comes under the spotlight of those in Government that may determine the future of the sport of shooting and the industry that exists and thrives on the back of it. Every year at the CLA Game Fair the GWCT plays host to numerous Ministers and VIPs.

For those of us who participate and of course those whose livelihoods depend on it, it is vital that those determining the future of our sport are well informed and understand fully the work going on to ensure the sustainability of shoots across the country.

Reaching Out To The Wider Public

This year the Trust welcomed Anita Rani and the BBC Countryfile team to the stand as part of their piece on sustainable Estate Management.

This was a rare visit from the BBC to the CLA Game Fair, and as Countryfile has taken criticism of late over it’s opinions on the shooting industry, with allegations of bias and “inbalance”, it is important that the Trust receives exposure like this as a strong, informed and scientific voice of the industry.

It is one of the reasons that I am a firm supporter, we need them.

Celebrating Achievements

On the GWCT stand we shared in the success of both Bill Doherty of Ashington who won the Trust’s annual Julian Gardner Wildlife Photography Award with his stunning picture of an osprey that he took from a hide in Scotland; and William Robinson with his amazing set of prizes from Zeiss as reward for his studies at Sparsholt College. William  has since started a job in habitat management and we wish him well in his future career.

And now I come to the sad news that we have received this week, the permanent cancellation of the event by the current organisers – the CLA.

To be completely frank, although it was a shock, it was not a complete surprise to me. Even in the short space of time that I have been an active participant (although a paying visitor for many years) I have noticed a decline, and I had picked up, especially this year, a sense of gloom over the event. This has been backed up the low visitor numbers this year and the fact they actually made a significant loss. Many criticise the venues, some despair at the fact that it was becoming too much of a shopping village, some blame the cost to exhibit and rise in entrance prices – making it near unaffordable for a family day out for some.

I’m no expert, it may be all or none of those reasons, but for sure it is a drastic loss to the country sports industry and to those passionate about the countryside. Of course there are many fantastic regional events throughout the year that draw large crowds, but I seriously believe that we need one “Showcase” event in the year, that is a total celebration of all that we love about the countryside, country pursuits and fieldsports. I loved the CLA Game Fair, and I can not believe there will never be another one.

That being said I am hopeful. We, as photographers, used to have the “Focus Show”, an amazing showcase event for the photographic industry. That too went into decline, became too much a retail event, and we lost it. We were all gutted, but out of the ashes rose the “Photography Show” – no bigger than it’s predecessor, but brighter, fresher and significantly more relevant to those who valued it.

So RIP CLA Game Fair, but here’s to it’s successor – a true “Countryside Showcase” for celebrating the countryside, our sports and our freedoms. For political lobbying, for business networking, for securing a sustainable countryside for the next generation … we just need somebody brave enough, and imaginative enough, to take it on.

Come on, stand up, whoever you are … bring it on ….

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