Bitten by the beating bug

The value of shooting is greatly publicised.. but what about the value of beating?


“Come along on Saturday- its great, fun lots of banter.”

‘Banter?’ I frowned as the estate owner tried to sweet talk me into joining his team of beaters on the growing syndicate shoot he owns in the village I grew up in.

Spending all day watching people doing what I want to be doing (shooting) didn’t exactly sound fun..

I had a million and one other things to do but this guy had been good to me, he lets me graze his 500 acre estate for free, hell he even gave me a wild boar once, so I dubiously agreed.
Being the socially inept person that I am, and normally with a loader by my side for moral support, arriving on the day was slightly daunting- I can’t say I’m your average looking country bumpkin and I often get underestimated in my abilities to get my hands dirty. A bit of lipgloss can only help not hinder, surely? But I was welcomed with open arms by fellow beaters, all very chatty and keen to get a sniff of where this fresh meat had suddenly emerged from. “You’re the girl from South East Farmer!” one lady chimed. I was pleased to see my regional celebrity status stretched to the beating line.
Upon first impressions, I was surprised to get talking to such a variety of people, and even more pleasingly, predominantly women. Kids in high visibility jackets ran around playing and older gentlemen with their grey faced spaniels at their feet chatted away to the guns like they’d known them for years. In fact, looking at the scene as a whole, they probably had known them for years. This was a community. And totally different to any other shoot I’d been to, where beaters and guns couldn’t possibly mix and £30 a day ensured neither ever had to exchange pleasantries.


The first drive- around 150 birds are shot each weekend which are then supplied to a local pub


I was offered a shot of brandy and a sausage sandwich, which (obviously) I gratefully accepted and we were on our way; stick in hand, dogs at foot but still chatting away.

It turns out that the actual process of beating is a very minor part of the day.

Short periods of time were spent diving through cover crop, but the rest is spent laughing, walking, eating and yes, Ian was right, an awful lot of banter.

A stark difference to my usual shoot day experiences, stood lonesome on a peg occasionally getting to chat to fellow guns between drives.

alice beating

I was easily convinced to join the guns and beaters in the pub afterwards.
As I lay in bed that night I felt happiness (and a slightly spinning head). In one day I had become part of an exclusive fraternity of I’m pretty sure some of the nicest and most welcoming people I have ever met. There truly is a value in meeting people who understand everything I had been scorned for in the past (the main reason I love social media).

One lady, Karen, told me how she decided to try out beating five years ago when her confidence levels were at rock bottom and she was terrified of loud bangs. She’d never touched a gun in life, or even spent a lot of time outdoors. But she hasn’t missed a day since and her confidence has grown no end, with her daughter and granddaughter now also being heavily involved. She rightfully won beater of the season this year at the shoot dinner.
“You’re back?!”, Gary, a particularly welcoming member of the group exclaimed as I enthusiastically arrived the following week.

My weekends began to revolve around beating, declining invitations regularly, “Sorry I have work that day.” Not strictly a lie..- I was ditching life long friends for people I had just met, knowing full well I’d have a much better time with them.

I couldn’t quite tell them I was actually going on nights out with a gang of men twice my age stood in Michelin starred pubs and being glared at for my mucky wellies.

My love life suffered, I couldn’t possibly get a boyfriend- what if he expected to see me on Saturdays?! Or all the evenings that I began to spend trailing after the gamekeeper, feeding and dogging in.

IMG_1515 These people are not only great fun, they’re amazing advocates for conservation and the countryside. Not living in a particularly rural part of the country, every Saturday evening we raid a pub in town head to toe in wellies, tweeds, flat caps, wax coats with spaniels at our feet. But that’s where the stereotype ends. We have builders, bank managers, beauticians and babies within our group and do we seclude ourselves? Far from it. Every man, woman and child that enters that pub gets a smile and its unusual for them to leave without having asked for the phone number of someone so they can come beating for a day to try it out.

This community, my community, is totally inclusive of all walks of life, classes, backgrounds, sex and race. We even had a vegetarian once (we soon converted her).

And to leave you with a final revelation.. I have spent much of my past on shoots, gun in hand, numb with the cold, waiting and waiting, and for the final day of the season I am brushing the cobwebs off my 20 bore for a day on a peg, and all I can say is, quite frankly, I’d rather be beating.

Its long way from now until October, but if you want a great day out, plenty of exercise, a brace of pheasant to take home, and to make great friends along the way I urge you, find your local syndicate shoot and get stuck in! You don’t need a penny in your pocket (but a strong tolerance of alcohol is advisable).




When is a farmer really a farmer?


Today I was told ‘I’m not a farmer therefore I do not understand.’
This to me came as no surprise. I’m used to the uninterested looks when people discover I do not own thousands of acres of land and that I am effectively, a smallholder.

I consider myself very lucky to be in the position that I am- with a few acres of land, able to keep a fair few animals without worrying about the financial side of things.
Like many I can only dream of one day owning my own farm. Well a real farm anyway.

Even when the TV series First Time Farmers aired there was the resounding “when are they going to use proper farmers” echoing around my Twitter feed.

I’ve grown up with dung in my hair and cows as best friends, I’ve seen the destruction of Foot and Mouth, I’ve said since I was about five years old that I would be a farmer. I studied Agriculture at Hadlow College; this led to me obtaining a degree in Agriculture from the Royal Agricultural University. I’ve lambed god knows how many thousand sheep, been voted runner up Britain’s Sexiest Farmer and I’ve reared my own livestock. Yet, my identity is still floating round in an abyss between non-farming folk seeing me as an agricultural encyclopaedia, but actual farming folk looking at me like a naïve girl desperate to be something I’m not.

It’s hard being a new entrant, and it’s also hard being a female. It seems to me, unless my father owns a farm which I work full time on and will one day inherit, I am pretty stuffed. If I marry a farmer I’ll of course be a farmer’s wife. Being a farmer, it would seem, is a very exclusive club.

I don’t think my dream of having my own farm, or at least enough sheep to not be looked at like a farmer might look at a strand of blackgrass in his wheat, will ever go away and nor will that desperate need in the pit of my stomach.
There is a fear I am going to be haunted with the ‘smallholder’ title for the rest of my life, but in the meantime I will continue to be an advocate for British agriculture, and in fact agriculture all over the globe, and do what I can to show just how hard farmers (you know, real farmers) work every day to feed the world.

thank a farmer

A Day of Clays


After a year of deliberation and postponement, today I was finally able to attend a day clay pigeon shooting with the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club in the beautiful grounds of West Kent Shooting School.

Not long established, the Chelsea Bun Club was set up by the gorgeous Victoria Knowles-Lacks in 2012 with the intention of getting more ladies involved in shooting and has gone from strength to strength.

Having heard such positive reviews I believed it would be good but I was slightly dubious. Could it really be that good? Well, it turns out the answer was yes. It really, really could.

Feeling slightly nervous upon arrival I was welcomed by smiling faces, friendly chatter and tea in abundance. Soon after we were quickly assigned to our groups of beginners, intermediate and advanced guns before the shooting commenced.

The instructors were top notch, no faffing, straight to the point and probably beat any clay lesson I’ve ever had.


With clays flying from all angles beginners got to get a real feel of the sport whilst the experienced guns were able to challenge themselves.

Blessed with gorgeous sunshine, the grounds echoed with supportive cheers, claps, hoots and pure delight. People that had never touched a gun in their lives were obliterating clays all over the place. There was no feeling of superiority or arrogance, just pure sisterhood.

Once shooting was over it was time for the second best part of the day-CAKE.


There was Victoria sponges, red velvet, chocolate, walnut, muffins; the list is mouth wateringly endless. Using beautifully delicate fine china it was the perfect ladies tea party.. with a slight gunpowdery twist.


After much cake was devoured we had the extreme privilege of meeting world record breaker and gold medallist Abbey Burton. There she told us of her shooting experience, threw in a little motivational talk, and presented the winners with their rosettes. We even got to hold her prize gun.


In just four short (but wonderful) hours my shooting technique and confidence was boosted, my stomach was satisfied and I found myself a wonderful new group of friends.

So if you’ve never touched a gun in your life or if you were born and bred on a grouse moor in Yorkshire I urge you, maybe even plead you to sign up for a day with the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club for the good of not just your soul, but womankind.


Think Westies Can’t Work? Think Again.


I’m going to take you back to 2009, a few months before I had lost my cherished (but pretty useless) Labrador Bessie, and all I wanted for my 18th birthday was a puppy. So imagine my delight when on the day I was told we’d be off to choose two puppies, a girl for me and a boy for my mother.
On arrival I was greeted by 4 beautiful tiny white balls of fur which I was told were West Highland Terriers. Ignoring my Dads advice I chose the puppy that showed personality traits similar to my last beloved dog. My mum chose the last dog pup left and three days later we collected them.

They had a normal upbringing for a puppy; not particularly countrified and I generally kept them away from the farm and the horses. They were socialised well with my friends’ dogs and at puppy classes too.

Ted (my Mum’s dog) showed typical delinquent signs and took great joy in disappearing for hours on end whilst being walked and ignored all training. We hoped this was just a rebellious teenage faze and continued to keep him on the lead wherever he went. Hattie on the other hand was an absolute angel in every way despite her love for occasionally scrapping with other dogs.


To cut a long story short after Ted (above) massacres some of my Mum’s hand reared ducklings she disowned him and the responsibility was passed on to me. There have been times I’ve wanted to rehome him after spending hours waiting for him to resurface from a field of rape/thicket of brambles/abandoned badger sett but after years of suffering we have come to an agreement. I recently read a very interesting article in The Countryman’s Weekly about how to stop your dog running off and it was so true. A dog looks to his master for everything and if your hunting techniques are poor he will take matters into his own hands.. or paws. It explained the importance of showing your dog you CAN hunt and allowing him to help you. By working with Ted rather than against him I have taught him I know all the best places to find rats, rabbits and anything else of interest and I believe he now truly sees me as the alpha.


Of course there are times he’ll disobey. If he’s sniffing round the hay and a fox bolts I have no chance and when I see that cheeky twinkle in his eye I know I’ll have a job to get him back.
Hattie on the other hand has never been a problem; she’s always done exactly as I please. We started terrier racing when she was about one and I can proudly say she has never come lower than second in a race. When she sees that bit of fur flying across the ground she lets out a blood curdling howl there’s no stopping her.


Now you may be thinking I’m just an amateur who has no idea about training a dog but I have spent hours of my time researching, reading and recording any information I can find. There’s nothing more I love than dogs and I tried everything.
Hats is a credit to me and anyone that knows him, will say Ted is too.
Without sounding big headed people come to me for training advice and help with their dogs. I just seemed to end up with the worlds most strong willed terrier, but hey, challenge accepted.
My dogs spend almost every minute with me and come with me pretty much everywhere I go, including away to university.


Now, when someone thinks about a westie they probably imagine a little old lady pottering along the seafront with her pooch waddling along by her side. After reading a number of threads and blogs about working westies it seems most people’s opinions are similar. They are nothing but little yappy dogs allergic to grass seed, dust, sunlight, breathing etc. One gamekeeper spoke of a westie he used to work, who he said was great but believed its drive was learned by growing up with other working dogs.

This was not the case with my two, if anything I’ve discouraged them and scolded them in the past for anything they killed. Now I’ve learnt to embrace it and enjoy nothing more than a day out ratting with them and my boyfriends JRT cross. .
I am often given funny looks when I arrive at a terrier race or ratting permission (I’m used to this for generally being a girly gamekeeper/farmer) but people are always impressed and astounded by their ability and their drive for quarry. They are not the fittest dogs and will sleep for hours after a day working but this is more down to me and their regime rather than their capabilities.


So if you think that these terriers are merely family pets, think again. If I ever have a terrier like either of these two again, I will feel more than blessed.


And if you’re worried your westie might be about to turn into a killing machine, don’t, they make a pretty good lap dog too.