October 1 marks an important day in the countryside calendar – the start of the game shooting season proper. From first light this morning until February 1 groups of “guns” will be out at the thousands of shoots across the county, hoping to bag themselves pheasant, as well as other game that is already in season.

In Britain, we should be rightly proud of our shooting sports as we have something that is truly special. Game management and conservation have helped shape and enhance our landscapes for generations and that management is now involved in some two thirds of the rural land mass of the UK. Within that area, nearly two million hectares are actively managed for conservation, with the equivalent of 16,000 full time jobs spent on that conservation each year. Two million hectares represents 12 per cent of the UK’s rural land, which is more than 10 times the total area of all national and local nature reserves.

As a result, wildlife thrives where land is properly managed for shooting – a sport that is worth £2 billion to the UK economy and involves more than a million people. The contribution that it makes to the rural economy is therefore enormous, and it is frequently in places where other sources of income are few and far between.

There are also real health benefits to eating game. Venison is high in protein, low in saturated fatty acids and contains higher levels of iron than any other red meat and pheasant and partridge also contain a high level of iron, protein and vitamin B(6). The fact it is also a wild, free-range alternative to farmed meat, just adds to its attraction, and its popularity just keeps increasing.

So whether you enjoy crisp, winter days out in the field, with your dog and friends, young and old, or if you want to once again enjoy fresh free-range game at its best, be thankful that the shooting season is here again.

Adrian Blackmore Director of shooting Countryside Alliance