January 2019

Every year country side shoots take place on estates and farms and now the pheasants on the receiving end of those gunshots are being processed to help feed the hungry. More than 8 million people struggle to feed themselves in the UK so The Country Food Trust has been formed to try and address this.  Duncan Clark from Braxted Park in Essex is one of those leading the campaign.

The serenity of the countryside, this time of the year punctuated with the sound of gunshot, the target – pheasants bred for this very purpose.   This is Braxted Park in Essex very close to Chelmsford it’s just off the busy A12, but it feels a world away from the multi-lane carriageway.  Like all estates its business model is diverse, you can get married here, you can play golf, there is even a cookery school.   There is one thing that pre-dates all of those – shooting.  This place was first recorded as a deer park in 1342 and has been through many transformations – it is owned by Duncan Clark and his family.  “I think the shoot has gone on here if you look at the game books since the late 19thcentury so for over 100 years.  It’s really in our DNA – I mean it is such a wonderful, community activity”, but Duncan Clark doesn’t just see this as a country pursuit unlike some shoots where some birds are wasted he is adamant they are eaten.

If the game that we shot was not consumed we’d all stop shooting, no countryman would continue to shoot unless the game that we harvested went into the food chain.”

Not satisfied with just making sure there’s no waste Duncan wanted to do something much more – he’s helped form a national charity called The Country Food Trust which helps the homeless and people who rely on food banks.  “We have a network of ambassadors; we recruit shoots and they raise money and then the other thing the ambassadors have got to do is get out there and talk to the homeless charities and the food banks to develop the demand.  We then process the meat and that is how it all works.

Those on the shoot take their positions. I am told the shooters only aim for the birds that are high up.

This is highly nutritious, high protein, low cholesterol meat and it’s there for free, that’s the main point, the alternative is quite costly chicken.”  It’s a way of helping people because it is low cost.

It’s free. It couldn’t be lower cost than that?”

But surely you have got to process it though – and there’s cost in processing. “Absolutely it’s a cost to the people engaged in shooting they are the people contributing it.”

After the shoot the birds are taken to The Wild Meat Company in Suffolk for processing.  Robert Gooch gives me the tour.   “This is where the birds are put in trays when they come from the shoot.  And are kept here for perhaps two or three days at 2 – 3 degrees.It’s like being in a big fridge.”  Well it’s full isn’t it.  You have got so many different types of bird in here and here we have got some from Braxted.   “Yes these have come straight from the shoot and they come straight here and will be put up in these trays until we are ready to process them.’

At The Wild Meat Company they mainly deal with game birds and deer. The meat is becoming very popular. “For a lot of people it is a natural meat so that’s what we say – wild and natural and the other thing people quite like is the fact that it’s not been through a slaughter house.   So as you have seen at Braxted it is shot in a wild, natural environment  and there’s no real stress of being in an abattoir and that for many people is why they like eating game.”

The meat is completely free for food banks and homeless shelters.

The processing is paid for by those who go on the shoots. And also it’s very low on food miles. “Absolutely, yes we have been delivering to Colchester food bank and other food banks in the area and so it is shot here and onto someone’s plate in quite a local way.

This is the kitchen at Beacon House in Colchester, a homeless shelter that benefits from The Country Food Trust.  Hilary Hannen is in charge of feeding everyone who comes through the door.  How important is it to you to get donations from people like The Country Food Trust?

My budget for feeding 30 people a day is £30 a week”. A week?

Yes, and I spend £10 of that on milk so donations from all places is really good. We get a lot of chicken donations from the supermarkets that support us, but having something really different is going to be really good. We get quite a lot of baked beans and tinned tomatoes so it is using what we have got which is really good as well.”  Would you say that this kind of initiative is vital for places like Beacon House to function?  “Yes I think so, we rely on donations of food from lots of different places so something different coming in is really important for us.” And obviously being game meat its nutritious and this is what you need to give people, a good warm meal that is a good healthy thing to eat.  “A lot of the guys on the street do survive perhaps on a lot of  teas and coffees with sugar in, lots of cakes and biscuits so something that is just good protein with little fat I think is going to be really good for themas well”. And well received so far?  “Yes, absolutely.”

The Beacon House homeless shelter is run by Vivienne Wiggins.  “Protein is what people need to build up muscles. We have a nurse here and she is always making sure people keep healthy.  So the good thing about The Country Food trust is it is a missing part of what we already have.  And it is local – it’s Essex and I am a great believer, this is an Essex community initiative with one part of Essex doing one thing supporting another part of Essex, but all the same community.”

What’s that like then – do you like it?  “Yummy, really tasty my kind of food.” Do you think it is great that there is an initiative where you get that food brought to places like Beacon House?  “Yes I do it’s nice because everyday there is something different but there is always fresh vegetables, fresh salad and fresh fruit. So people that come here do eat very healthily if they wish to.  People are needy and people need to eat on a daily basis.  This cold weather, need something warm inside them so it’s very important.” And how important is Beacon House to you?  “Very – it’s been my lifeline, I have been on the streets for about a month now and if it wasn’t for Beacon House I don’t know what I would do with myself during the day.

The Trust is continuing to expand, getting more shoots involved across the country to help to do their bit for people in food poverty.   Do you think it kind of bridges the gap between the countryside and other parts of the country?   Do you think it’s all about kind of working together?  “Yes absolutely, homelessness is not just an urban problem, we have it also in the major towns around the country and for the countryside to try and help alleviate that problem is always going to help bridge the gap between town and country.”