STRANGFORD MP Jim Shannon has been recognised for the outstanding contribution he has made to country sports in Ireland.
He is the first recipient of the new Great Game Fairs Black Grouse Trophy, awarded in memory of the late Major William Brownlow and formally presented by his widow, Mrs Eveleigh Brownlow, at the official launch of the 2011 Irish Game Fair which will be held at Shanes Castle on 25th and 26th June.
Major Brownlow who was a passionate advocate of country pursuits, sports and lifestyles was one of those originally responsible for establishing the Shanes Castle event which last year exceeded all records for attendance at a game fair anywhere in Ireland. Creating the Black Grouse Award, Albert Titterington of The Great Game Fairs of Ireland, paid tribute to his legacy.
He said, “This is a most fitting way for all of us to remember Major Brownlow and the lifelong commitment he demonstrated to country sports. The fabulous bronze Black Grouse Trophy for the Country Sports Personality of the Year will be awarded annually to someone who has made a similarly lasting and positive contribution to our sector and it is open to men and women from right across Ireland.
“Our choice of a Black Grouse is of course quite deliberate as country sports enthusiasts are currently working hard to enhance the Red Grouse population in Ireland. This work and the concept of re-introducing the Black Grouse is something William Brownlow supported and something I would like to see happen.
“Perhaps the founding of this award will stimulate not only country sports enthusiasts but also government and conservation bodies to push for the opening up and better planning of our state forests to enable them to sustain such species as the Black Grouse. To do this they have to look no further than Sweden which combines extensive and intensive forestry operations with providing superb habitat for not only Black Grouse but other species of grouse including the majestic Capercaille.”
Accepting the Award, Jim Shannon said, “I am genuinely thrilled to be the recipient of this award, not least because it marks recognition from my peers and many friends in country sports.
“I have long been passionate about all field sports and about the need to protect and promote our rural heritage and way of life – and it is my experience that those interests go hand in hand. By bringing people closer to nature country sports serve to build understanding and respect for our wider natural environment and I commend the interest to all.
“In particular I would like to see still more young people given the opportunity to try their hand at country sports and I would urge sportsmen and women and their clubs to consider ways in which they might actively introduce newcomers to their chosen sports. Before anyone dismisses country pursuits as minority interests may I note that angling is, famously, one of this country’s largest participation sports!
“All of us who love the countryside recognise the importance of protecting it for future generations. Just this month Britain attempted to put an actual price on the benefits of our natural environment in an innovative government-commissioned study which made a strong financial case for caring for nature, calculating that the health benefits of living close to a green space for example are worth up to £300 per person per year.”
Mr Shannon pondered over the “natural beauties of Ireland, North and South,” and what they must be worth, not only to improved lifestyles for people lucky enough to live close to them but also as a focus for tourism. He said, “If love of nature isn’t enough to make us all work to protect our beautiful environment then perhaps financial interests will tip the balance.
“I attribute much of my own love of nature and the environment to my early associations with country sports and I am delighted that a lifetime of pleasure is being marked with this kind presentation. I remember my cousin Kenneth sending me pigeons that he had shot and I so enjoyed them. I started shooting and with my friend David Meredith we honed our skills and shot rabbits, pheasants and of course pigeons. When my son Jaime was old enough I took him out and he too shares the love of the countryside. I can’t wait for the day to take my little granddaughter Katie-Leigh out on her first shoot as the tradition continues from generation to generation,” he said.