The death was swift. A brief press release from the offices of the CLA (Countryside Landowners Association) consigned the annual Game Fair to history. The biggest event in the rural calendar, at least measured by the number of people that attended, was to be cancelled. No reprieve was offered. Even though dates for the 2016 event at Ragley Hall had been in the diary for two years, it was all over forever. The show, despite being visited by around a 150,000 people, was a loss maker for the CLA and the membership could no longer support the losses.
There will be many of you out there who will never have visited the Game Fair and plenty more abroad who are not familiar with the concept. In a nutshell take three glorious English summer days at the end of each July. Against the backdrop of a magnificent stately home erect a show ground amidst the oak parkland and alongside the Capability Brown lake. Invite the best of British rural sports, trades and craftsmen to showcase their wares. Throw open the gates to make this a celebration of all things great about the countryside. A place where old friends reconnect and new eyes are opened. What could go wrong? Well, apparently quite a lot.
I must admit I always thought the Game Fair and the CLA odd bedfellows. The latter, as the name suggests, is an upmarket association. I always rather enjoy its glossy, quarterly magazine but the contents are more suited to Downton Abbey that your local dentist surgery. If it had a problems page (maybe it should ….) the letters would read: “Dear Edgar, My gardener has announced his intention to take his annual two weeks vacation in July. Does he not realise this is grass growing season?” I am probably being a little cruel but you get the general idea.
I don’t want to describe the Game Fair of its last few years as downmarket but, in what was clearly an effort for survival, it was chasing an audience that was a very long way from both the magazine and my Utopian vision of what it might be. As an exhibitor and visitor I have been unfulfilled. Certainly financially. As an exhibitor it was a black hole. As a visitor the £35 entrance fee in 2015 was eye-watering. The first ever Game Fair in 1959 was 13p; that is Weimar Republic scale inflation. But setting the money issues aside the show had lost its way. It’s USP, unique selling point, that opportunity to offer a glimpse of the magic of country sports, was lost in the melee stands more suited to an urban weekend market. Heady Days. Kate Middleton at te 2004 Game Fair
Has the Game Fair died in it’s prime? Well, probably not. At 56 it was showing its age in a world that has moved on, where I doubt even the term “Game Fair” in itself means anything. It will leave a hole in the summer calendar and plenty will mourn its passing, but maybe in its place will rise something that will inspire future generations as the shows of the 1970s did for me.
Knotweed and other menaces
Ever wondered why the 2012 London Olympics cost us taxpayers so much? Well, I don’t exactly know but I bet nobody surveying the Hackey site prior to construction gave the Japanese Knotweed a second glance. They should have done. It took £70m to eradicate before the first concrete slab was poured.
This I know because I have been re-reading Balsam Bashing and How to tackle other invasive non-native species by Theo Pike who I bumped into at the Wild Trout Awards last week. Though he likes to deflect, Theo is the undoubted authority on all things invasive.
I know the title of the book is a bit prescriptive but it truly is a good read. I never knew that the Freshwater Shrimp Gammarus pulex, a staple diet of chalkstream trout, was entirely absent from Ireland until misguidedly introduced in the 1950’s to Northern Ireland. Now spreading south it is devastating the native population. Our good friend Himalayan Balsam (Britain’s tallest annual plant) gets a mention as do rabbits that took me up short. My daughter, a keen spotter of crayfish, was horrified to read Theo’s advice “It is illegal to release or allow to escape non-native crayfish ….. crush underfoot.”
The Invisible World – award winning film