Ian Coghill is GWCT chairman. He had a 42 year career in local government - and enjoyed the unique distinction of hunting three different packs of hounds whilst working full-time for a Labour council! In the three years prior to retirement from Birmingham City Council he oversaw the reduction of crime by 27 per cent and simultaneously under his direction, Birmingham became the largest recycler in the UK.
Do you get your kit ready the night before?
Yes, and I load most of it in the car - but not my gun! I do quite a bit of wildfowling and, whilst by most normal standards I'm an early riser, I often have to start out at 3 or 4am if I am off to the coast for a morning flight and every second counts. Parking the car in the half light with geese streaming over head and a six-hour round trip wasted is an experience not to be repeated twice in a lifetime.
Do you have a lucky garment or accessory?
Many years ago when I hunted a pack of beagles I had a pair of lucky socks. I was hunting hounds at least two days a week and the logistics of having them available 60 or more days a season cured me of such fancies for life. Although, now I think of it, we did catch a lot of hares.
Do you have your own shoot, belong to a syndicate or take days?
I run a tiny pheasant shoot which is extremely enjoyable and helps to sublimate my command and control urges. Like many people, I am lucky enough to have some very generous friends who are kind enough to invite me to shoot with them and I buy a few days, mostly in GWCT auctions. I've met some amazing people and made some great friends through buying auction lots, which is perhaps not that surprising when one considers that the donors are by definition going to be generous sportsmen and women.
Your favourite day's shooting?
Hunting hounds teaches you not to have favourites. I just love it all. I am as perfectly happy sitting in a creek waiting for the moon and with it the chance of a goose, as I am waiting on a good peg on a big pheasant day. If I had to pick from the recent past, for reared game it would be a day Robin Clarke hosted at Eddington last season when they produced perfectly organised sport in the face of tempest, hail and rain in spite of it being too dangerous to go in the woods. We were shooting partridges in the first drive that were overtaking the hailstones. For wild game I was blessed with an invitation from Ian and Diana Yates to shoot at Reeth last year and if there is anything more exciting than trying to shoot experienced grouse coming downwind in an equinoxial gale over a ridge line that you could touch with a walking stick, I have yet to discover it. If the good Lord had called me that night, the death certificate would have read ‘Died of pleasure'.
As GWCT chairman, do you find people regard you differently in the shooting field?
Not usually. What sometimes happens is that a fellow Gun will tell me what we are doing wrong or not getting right. I never mind as long as it doesn't spoil everyone's lunch. GWCT is a wonderful organisation without which game shooting in the UK would be considerably compromised, but it is not perfect and a bit of constructive customer feedback is very useful and welcome.
When and how did you take up the sport?
As a young man I was diagnosed with an untreatable hunting obsession which inevitably got me contact with people who shot and fished. Their kindness got me involved and when I stopped hunting hounds my shooting simply took off.
Was your father a shooting man?
No. The only time I ever saw him fire a shotgun was at a sitting rabbit 20 yards away and he missed it by a country mile. He was, however, very supportive of my juvenile pursuits.
What prompted your involvement with GWCT?
When the hare research started, the Masters of Harriers and Beagles Association were asked to put someone on the Wetlands and Predation Research Steering Committee and Capt Wallace, aka ‘God', who in those days ran virtually everything to do with hunting, told them to send me. That first meeting was a complete revelation.
Literally brilliant but practical scientists mingled with gamekeepers, landowners and farmers blending practice, sense and science to answer questions that really mattered. I absolutely loved it and I still do.
When does that date back to?
The beginning of the 90s and I've been involved in various ways ever since.
Is Trust membership growing?
No, it is not. We are having to fight to keep it stable at around 20,000.
We are far too small. We only survive because the quality of our members has so far compensated for the lack of quantity. In the main, our members are people who see the challenges that are faced, not only by game and wildlife, but by the traditional ways of life, such as shooting and gamekeeping, that support them, and who want to do what they can to help. They are, in short, people who want to put something back into the sport that gives them so much. Sadly, however there aren't enough of them as yet.
Do you feel positive about the future of the sport?
Yes and no. When you see the enthusiasm and success of modern game shooting you have to be optimistic. There are, however, lots of challenges and you don't have to be paranoid to think that there are people and organisations who want to see an end to shooting. One of our best defences is to build up a body of irrefutable peer reviewed science which demonstrates that stopping properly conducted shooting would significantly damage biodiversity and landscape scale conservation. That is what GWCT is consistently demonstrating.
Your favourite gun?
My Army and Navy single 8 bore. It was made before the Boer War. Damascus barrel, nickel plated hammer and action, perfectly balanced and a joy to shoot. A grey goose on the shore should always be an event and pulling one out of the clouds with a proper wildfowling gun makes sure it is.
Are you tense on the first drive?
I don't think tense is quite the right word. I'm certainly something - excited, expectant... Like the line in Henry V: “I see them stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start.” I'm a bit like one of Shakespeare's greyhounds.
Does a mid-morning drink help or hinder?
Shooting is a social activity about much, much more than simply accurate marksmanship. If people like a small tipple as part of the day that's fine by me. When I'm in Rome I am very happy to follow the custom of the Romans.
Do you prefer to eat at lunchtime or shoot through with a meal afterwards?
Whatever suits the efficient running of the day suits me. On my own shoot we just have sandwiches and we stop for a quick lunch to rest the dogs and beaters at a time to suit the day, not the clock, but when I'm away I'm happy either way.
Honestly, do you always clean your gun afterwards?
I must do, as I never clean it before.
Do you have regular shooting pals - who are they?
Yes, but as it says in the King James Bible, ‘their name is legion'. I was very lucky all those years ago when I became besotted with fieldsports. My experience is that the hunting and shooting community contains some of the last people in the country who still know how to really enjoy themselves and I count it a great blessing to have spent time in their company.
What, if anything, disappoints you on a shooting day?
Not being there. Missing a day is like losing a salmon, you can never recover it and you can't forget it. If I'm there I'm generally happy but I prefer people who take an interest in their quarry and I can't stand moaners - they are the only people I moan about.
What makes a good day?
Seeing it done well. Making something complicated and difficult look so simple that a fool thinks it is easy is a true test of quality. The days I mentioned before were classic examples.