Writer, zoologist and gundog enthusiast, Pippa blogs on life in the countryside

Pippa’s Blog is moving

I  have decided to move this blog onto my own website pippamattinson.com.

I am not going to ‘migrate’ it in one go, I have read too many stories about how this can go wrong.

So I have decided to move the articles over a few at a time.

When the transition is complete, I will shut this one  down.

Thank you

This will probably be the last new post I put up on this site,   and I would just like to say a BIG thank you to all those that have subscribed and commented.

It is now just over a year since I discovered WordPress and started blogging.  This  site was my first attempt and I could not possibly have guessed just how much I would enjoy it.

Your support and encouragement has been a huge part of that.

I hope you will visit our ‘new home’  and look forward to seeing you there

Best wishes




Meet Rachael

Rachael and Pippa

I know.

I said my next puppy was going to be fox-red.

So what on earth am I doing with this chocolate dumpling!

You’ll have to check this out:  My chocolate adventure  to find out!

The standard reaction

I passed a member of our shoot on my way down to the meadow the other day and signalled to him that I had something of interest in the car.

“Oooooh!”  says he with interest

“is it a new puppy??”  says he with enthusiasm as he climbs out of his landrover

“is it a Labrador?” he asks excitedly as he crosses the road and peers in through the window of my truck

“Oh”.   he says,  as his voice trails away with disappointment.   “What a pity”  he sighs.

“Its chocolate…”

And he was only half joking

If you have no idea why the average British shooting man and woman views the chocolate labrador with some derision,  check out my link above.   Chocolates have not yet achieved much success in the  trialling world in the UK.   And have a lot to prove.

You can follow me through my trials and tribulations in: Rachael’s Journey.

I should be in for some fun!

My first video

I have been quite busy this month with my first attempt at video.  Here are the results

Produced by my son Tom.

Posturing and puppies

Labrador puppyA visitor to my blog recently drew my attention to a posturing rant in the Guardian newspaper  by George Monbiot.

The article was intended to express outrage at a proposal by Defra to permit the capturing of buzzards on shooting estates.

But was essentially a vitriolic and ill-informed attack on driven pheasant shooting with accompanying ‘witness account’ of what ‘actually goes on’.

And the witness was?  Monbiot himself.

What particularly caught my eye in the piece was Monbiot’s extraordinary claim to have been employed on a shoot as a loader in his teens.

If you want to know why I found this so odd,  drop into the Guns OnPegs website where you can read my article: Monbiot the Loader – an unlikely story


On a brighter note, it has been over four years since we heard the pitter-patter of four tiny paws in our home, and I am about to remedy that situation!

I raise and train a gundog puppy every few years, to join my picking-up ‘gang’, and accompany us on our ‘expIoits’.  This time we have decided on another Labrador.

I have reluctantly decided not to breed from my own four year old lab bitch.   Mainly because her conformation is rather poor.   This will be the first puppy I have not bred myself for some years.

After some considerable searching, and several disappointments,  I have managed to track down a soon-to-arrive litter of fox-red trial bred Labradors.    The pups are due in about ten days time,  so please keep your fingers crossed for me that there is a bitch amongst them!

Thought for the day!

There have recently been some comments on this blog by someone opposed to pheasant shooting and it is perhaps surprising that this has not happened sooner.   So this morning I will add a link to my post on the ethics of game shooting to my about page.

I have also given some thought to how I would deal with future comments of this nature.  I do believe in respecting everyone’s views and listening to others,  and I think it is important to take every opportunity to promote and defend our sport and our lifestyle.

But on the other hand I do not have unlimited time to spend debating a topic on which it is often hard to find common ground.

So I have decided to put some other thoughts on this issue,  in response to these recent comments,  and simply add to these if any relevant points need covering.    I have also decided to moderate ‘all’ comments (this blog is currently set to moderate only the first comment made by a new visitor).

So in the future you will find that your comments do  not appear until I have approved them.  This may take a few hours as I am not always online!

Against pheasant shooting

Some people are opposed to pheasant shooting.    Some arguments against pheasant shooting are based on misconceptions about how shooting is run and who takes part.  Many shoots, including my own, have guns that are not remotely ‘wealthy’  and work hard all week to make sure that they have enough money for their sport,   which may cost them less than a season ticket to Chelsea.

Most arguments ignore the contributions that shoots make to our wildlife and economy.  Many ignore welfare issues entirely.   (A pheasant does not suffer more because the man who shoots him is wealthy for example  –  this is a completely irrelevant argument)

Arguments I respect

Some arguments against pheasant shooting are based on a genuine desire to live on this planet without harming or eating other animals.

I have every respect and sympathy for that view,  though it is not one I share.  And I suspect it may not actually be is achievable.  Even with a truly vegan lifestyle.

Every aspect of human life requires that animals step aside at some point.   Especially when it comes to protecting our food chain.   I have been involved in the pest control industry for over thirty years and can assure all readers,  that if you ever eat in a restaurant,  vegan or not,  rats (and mice and cockroaches and all manner of other beasties) have probably died for your pleasure.

Drugs must be tested on animals so that our children and pets can be safe from the diseases that once ravaged society.

Crops are sprayed so that we can eat wheat, beans, carrots and all manner of other plants without paying a small mortgage for them.   And yes,  the average resident of my village can probably afford organic food,  but could we feed the planet on that basis?  I doubt it.

And bear in mind that even organic farmers employ pest control contractors to kill rodents, rabbit and birds that eat their crops or contaminate their stores  and use heat treatments to kill insects.

Still,  I do sympathise with all those that wish to live without harming other species,  and wish them well.   Most of the vegans I have met live according to their principles without trying to force their views on others.   Respect.

Those who oppose the many aspects of my own lifestyle that they find offensive,  are I find, often confused about their own principles.   They will often admit to hypocrisy when it comes to what they will kill and what they will not.  But do not see that this diminshes their own arguments.  They are also often happy to eat farmed meat which has been subjected to all sorts of unpleasant procedures.  This is what I have to say to them.

To those who oppose my lifestyle

I am happy to be a meat eater.  And happy that my pheasants  (and all the wild animals that we shoot and eat)  have had a better life (and death) than most of the lumps of meat you will find on a supermarket shelf.   I am deeply interested in animal welfare and always pleased to hear of new research or evidence on this subject.

Please read the ethics of game shooting for an explanation of my views,  and please do not be too disappointed if I do not get involved in too much debate with you.

I support your right to have your own views and ask that you support mine.  New information and research is welcome.  Repeated comments that cover the same ground will not be approved and those that come just to argue may be blocked.

This blog is for those that are interested in our shoot and in the activities that go  on there.  If that offends you,  you may be happier reading a different blog

Bored of bream

Black breamHimself arrived home last evening is a state of great excitement.

Apparently catching two bucketfuls of bream is a positively orgasmic experience!

I enjoy eating fish as much as I enjoy catching it.   But I do confess to having my favourites.   And must also confess that Bream is not amongst them.

Where are my mackerel?

My favourite table fish is salmon,  followed very closely indeed by mackerel.    And I couldn’t help but notice that there was only one mackerel in the bucket.

Himself regards me as some kind of Philistine.

My preference for mackerel is inexplicable to him.

A working lunch

Apparently he would have me know that he spent his entire lunch hour aboard the Queen of the Oceans,  producing the contents of the bowls above.

Though I suspect the ‘hour’  part was applied somewhat loosely.

Apparently I should be more grateful and appreciative of his efforts in providing us with enough bream to keep us going for months.

Before you ask,  for the fishermen amongst you,  the big fish in the nearer bowl weighed three pounds.  I put the matchbox there for scale.

Bored now

Himself started catching bream early last week,  and bream has featured rather strongly on the menu for the last few days.

I realise that this is some kind of heresy,  but I am now really quite bored of it.

I know it’s just me,  because we took some to the pub last night and they were snapped up with great enthusiasm.

But I just can’t help it.   Its mackerel for me any day of the week.

Goodbye April, hello May


Got to love those cocker ears!

Last month, our family was very pre-occupied with a big celebration.   It was an unforgettable experience watching my husband walk our  radiant younger daughter up the aisle of our village church.

Not least because of the shock of seeing him in a suit.

In fact it was quite extraordinary for me to see my entire family and many friends, transformed by suits, ties, hats and beautiful, colourful, dresses.

And to spend a whole day with so many loved ones.  An experience that not even the wettest month of the year could mar.

Of course my priorities have for the last few weeks been elsewhere than with dog training and the shoot.  But now April is done, and as we slip back into our ‘green’ clothes,  I am looking forward to this new month with renewed focus on our outdoor pursuits.

Meg as you can see (right) is relieved to have me back again!

The wettest drought in history

We are supposedly in the middle of a drought so serious that a hosepipe ban has been introduced throughout the South East of the UK.  However, no-one has thought to inform the sky above Hampshire and Surrey of this fact.  It has rained almost continuously now for around three weeks.

The farm is extremely waterlogged at the moment and the usually stunning annual display of bluebells has been somewhat flattened and diminished by the constant rain and high winds.  Even in the landrover,  straying from the main tracks is fraught with excitement.  And not in a good way!

The Queen of the Oceans  has been confined to her berth for all but a couple of days for the last few weeks.  Overcome with cabin fever due to the atrocious weather for the last few days,  himself went down to ‘look her over’  and pump out her bilges  on Sunday afternoon.   Several gallons of rainwater had been forced under her covers by the previous night’s gales.

Catching up with writing

Fortunately there is nothing too pressing that needs doing during April, and we were able to put the shoot on the ‘back burner’  whilst preparing for our big day,  and riding out the April storms.

And in the last few days I have been able to catch up with some of my articles for The Labrador Site  where I have been focusing on stopping dogs from pulling on the lead,  and Totally Gundogs  where I have been delving further into retrieving, and retrieving problems.

I have also set up a facebook page for my gundog site which, if you are into that kind of thing,  you can find here:  Totally Gundogs on Facebook

Ready for May

May will be a month of pen  mending, dog training, stalking and filming roe deer,  and stocking the freezer with rabbits, venison, and sea fish.    Himself and I also have some plans for a new website dedicated to deer.   But more of that later.

Here’s hoping that some of the many vats of water that fell on my house last night,  will end up in our desperately low reservoirs.   I certainly do not need any more in my garden.

The Canine Alliance

Canine Alliance Mission Statement

The Canine Alliance pledge to protect and support dogs

It has been a fascinating week for those following the fortunes of the  Canine Alliance. 

This is the new exhibitor’s organisation born out of the massive controversy that followed in the aftermath of this years extraordinary events at Crufts Dog Show.

There is a huge amount of confusion on the internet about what has happened in the dog world,  not least of all on the Canine Alliance’s own website.  

I wrote an article on my initial impressions of the Canine Alliance last month. 

And I have written a number of articles this week on the subject,   to try and keep things clear in my own head as much as anything else!  

How it all began

I also wanted to bring attention back to what started this whole juggernaut of controversy,  and that was the plight of dogs being subjected to extremes of breeding.    

So I started this week with an article on brachycephalic dogs and followed up by looking at exaggerated conformation overall,  and then at the scope and purpose of those controversial Vet Checks.

You can find the articles here:

The Canine Alliance

Many are very sceptical about the motives of the Canine Alliance which was initially seen as a pressure group dedicated to suspending the Vet Checks which resulted in this year’s disqualifications.

However,  the CA has since formed a mission statement pledging to protect and support pedigree dogs and I firmly believe that many of their members do have this objective as priority.   There has been a positive proposal already with regard to ensuring health standards in registered pedigree puppies.

The positive

The Canine Alliance has made a start in addressing the issue of the need for registration of puppies to be dependent on breeding stock meeting health standards.  This is something many experts and members of the public have been asking for,  for years.  

I broached this topic again on a large dog forum last year  as it is one of my ‘hobby horses’.   I suggested that it should be a requirement for example, that hip scores of both parents were below average before puppies could be registered with the Kennel Club. 

Interestingly, the response was,  as it had been before, that if the Kennel Club insisted on health tests before registering puppies,  the breeders would just go elsewhere.  And the KC would lose valuable revenue that enables it to work on behalf of dogs.

I personally have never believed that this would be the case.

But, in the light of my previous conversations with breeders,  it is wonderful to see the breeders and exhibitors of the Canine Alliance now getting behind the concept of a registration system that actually requires health testing.

The negative

Unfortunately the Canine Alliance seems to be pouring all its more constructive efforts into the ‘health tests for registration issue’ to the exclusion of the one issue which concerns the public above all others.  That of exaggerated conformation.

This behaviour unfortunately gives the impression that the Canine Alliance are using the ‘health testing for registration’ issue as a ‘smoke screen’  to deflect public interest away from the true purpose of the vet checks.  Which is to identify dogs with clinical problems associated with exaggerated conformation.  

There are also problems with the way that the Alliance is dealing with those members of the public that are not its supporters.  

So far the Canine Alliance has failed in the following respects

  • Reassuring the public that they recognise and will deal with exaggerations in conformation
  • Clearing up confusion on the Canine Alliance Facebook page
  • Objectivity from the steering committee
  • A professional approach to negotiating and presenting its agenda

Reassuring the public

Whilst it is great to see the Alliance tackle the issue of health standards for registration,  this is not the issue which most concerns the public at the present time. 

What most concerns people most is the failure of the dog show community to recognise and address the problems of exaggerated conformation in many breeds.   It is vital that exhibitor’s lead the way in fighting exaggerations in conformation if they are not be accused of defending those within their ranks that are deliberately breeding dogs with disabilities.

It is this issue that brought an end to the BBC’s annual coverage of Crufts.  It is this issue which fuelled the public objections to dogs shows and pure breeding in the aftermath of the Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme.  And it is this issue that we need the Canine Alliance to speak out on right now.

A public distaste

It is not Animal Rights fanatics  nor Jemima Harrison that is responsible for these public objections,  though she has certainly raised awareness.  These objections have been around since the 1960s and beyond. 

There is a widespread public distaste for the deliberate breeding of dogs with, what are effectively, disabilities for whatever reason.   And what people find most objectionable is the seeming inability of the show dog community to fully acknowledge and face up to these objections.

Here is a comment posted on the Canine Alliance Facebook Page by Alistair Hunter on Sunday 1st April.

Hi Cainine Alliance Why are people who claim to be dog lovers blocking this historic opportunity to correct some of the last 100 years of drift to unhealthy interpretation of breed standards that have taken many to the edge of genetic oblivion?

This was an opportunity for the Canine Alliance to show the world that it takes the problems of unhealthy interpretation of breed standards seriously.

The reply given to this question  beggars belief

unfortunately some people lead such boring lives they have nothing better to do .I feel sorry for them ,they must be so unhappy ds

This reply by ‘ds’  who represents the steering committee on the CA facebook page, gives us the distinct impression that the Canine Alliance simply has no interest in the opinions of those concerned with exaggerated conformation.  

 There follows no attempt to recognise that there is a problem with interpretation of breed standards,  there is no attempt to recognise that the vet checks are indeed a historic opportunity to correct these problems,  even if you do not agree that they are the right way to do so.  And there is no attempt to acknowledge that the question posed is a reasonable and valid one.

A proper response might have been

We at the Canine Alliance understand that members of the public are concerned about the exaggerations in conformation that have unfortunately crept into some of our pedigree dogs and would like to assure the public that we intend to discuss this matter at our next meeting

Or something along those lines

A most important issue

The problem of exaggerated conformation  is the  single most important issue facing the Canine Alliance today.  It is the reason for the Vet Checks that were introduced at Crufts and a massive source of concern for the general public.

It is not going to go away no matter how deeply into the sand heads are implanted.

To see these concerns dismissed in such a condescending fashion  does great harm to the Canine Alliance’s  cause.

The unnecessary and deliberate breeding of dogs with deformed bodies and impaired health is abhorrent to most dog lovers.    The vet checks set up by the Kennel Club were specifically designed to address this problem.

In my opinion,  if the Canine Alliance cannot face and address this issue it has no chance of gaining widespread public approval,  and no chance of negotiating its position with the Kennel Club.

Clearing up confusion on the Facebook Page

There  is a desperate need for clarity of information for breeders on the Canine Alliance Facebook page.

There is confusion over

  • The competence of vets
  • The purpose of the vet checks

Numerous posts are going up from exhibitors that are misinformed or uninformed that are not being answered effectively if at all.  

If the steering committee of the Canine Alliance wants to put up and effective fight for the type of checks it would like to support,  and to gain popular support for its agenda,  it needs to clear up some of this confusion. 

The competence of vets

The fact that some breeders still don’t understand the purpose of the vet checks,  and are not aware of the range of competencies of veterinary surgeons does not say much about the information that the CA provides for its members.

Here is one comment that was posted on Sunday 1st April.    

There is a very important something which no one is saying in this debate regarding health testing. That something is the assumption that vets are experts! They are NOT in the main they are just like G.P’s so why should we or the KC put our faith in their decisions??
If the KC wants us to accept what their pet vets say about a BOB winner then they must provide a group of specialist vets at each show to examine the dogs according to the perceived breed problem. So we need eye specialists, skin specialists etc.
Rob Hill

It is a matter for grave concern that fears over the competence of Britain’s veterinary surgeons are not being properly addressed.   This person posting is mistaken in believing that a vet is the equivalent of a GP  or that specialists are needed for the checks initiated by the Kennel Club

How would he cope with allowing his own vet to perform an operation on one of his dog’s eyes?

Who do we turn to when we need a surgical repair to a dog’s eyelid?  Repairing an eyelid with entropion for example?  Do we demand an eye specialist then?

No, of course we don’t.

Because a veterinary surgeon is supremely capable of recognising and if necessary surgically correcting clinical problems such as ectropion and entropion.    If the surgeon is capable of carrying out a repair,  he is surely capable of diagnosing the problem!!

Fact:  Veterinary surgeons are not just like GPs.  The clue is in the name.   They are more like General Surgeons.  They are trained to carry out all manner of complex surgical repairs on your dog.   They are probably some of the most skilled and versatile medical professionals on this planet.

The Kennel Club does not require eye specialists and skin specialists to perform the vet checks in question because the clinical symptoms of exaggerated conformation which are the target of these checks are  within the skills and capabilities on any competent veterinary surgeon.

These checks are not looking for retinal problems that require specialist instruments and experience to detect.  They are looking at the external structure of the eye.  It is entirely proper that this examination is carried out by a standard veterinary surgeon. 

To pretend otherwise is misleading.   And when the CA committee fails to inform the person posting of this error this gives a poor impression of the CA to the general public,  and makes people think that CA members are avoiding checks because they have something to hide.

The purpose of the vet checks

Professor Steve Dean (KC chairman) has stated quite clearly that the primary purpose of the Vet Check is to ensure that dogs showing clinical symptoms arising from exaggerations in conformation are not allowed to be given high awards in the show ring.

Yet time and again this is confused on the CA’s facebook page with the range of other health tests available to responsible breeders.

You can read more about the vet checks and their purpose here on the Totally Dogs site. 

More objectivity from the steering committee of the CA would go a long way to preventing this kind of confusion.

Objectivity from the steering committee

An ability to be objective in the face of criticism and complaint is crucial.  Being objective includes not only an ability to put your own agenda clearly but also involves acknowledging the objections against your propositions and addressing each objection in turn.  

Whilst the CA has raised a number of issues in its presentation to the Kennel Club and on its Facebook page,  it has failed to recognise the concerns of the wider public or to include its proposals for addressing those concerns.   

This has been a lost opportunity so far, and I sincerely hope that the CA will now find the resources to grasp every chance they have to show the public that they care about exaggerated conformation, and the other problems that have to be faced when breeding within a closed register.   As opposed to focusing all their discussions on the general health tests that are already in widespread use amongst responsible breeders.

The more discussion that is opened about resolving the problems facing brachycephalic dogs and dogs with other conformational problems, the greater the chance that a solution will be found without losing these breeds altogether.

A professional approach

 Many of us were hoping for and expecting a far more professional approach to fantastic opportunity which was offered to the Canine Alliance by the Kennel Club. 

The chance to give a presentation to the Kennel Club was precious and I was expecting a document that was professional and considered in its approach. 

Normally such a document would at least begin by outlining the issues at stake and describing the stakeholders and the scope of the problems faced by both parties.    Yet the presentation by Mike Gatsby simply plunged straight into an accusation of ‘victimisation’ by the Kennel Club and finishes with an extraordinary and sweeping dismissal of all those that have taken the time and trouble to write to Steve Dean and offer him their support.

He says

Any support that Steve Dean has received for his veterinary inspections are based on  misleading reports and failures within this initiative.

So there you have it.  Your views don’t count!

The presentation described the selection of 15 breeds as victimisation without a single reference to the reasons that the KC selected these breeds,  or any reasoned argument of why a ‘wider’ or ‘universal’ selection would be more appropriate,  and beneficial to dogs. 

The Kennel Club makes it clear that the Vet Checks are to look for clinical symptoms of exaggerated conformation.  It is widely acknowledged that many breeds do not suffer from exaggerated conformation.   There was no explanation by the Canine Alliance of why the checking of breeds which do not suffer from exaggerations would be justified,  either financially or otherwise. 

The presentation would have earned more respect if a list of other breeds that should join the 15 had been proposed,  rather than just demanding vet checks for every breed regardless of whether or not they suffer from conformational defects.

Another missed opportunity

There were a couple of points in this presentation with which I feel the public would have great sympathy if the earlier points had been better addressed and if their own concerns had not been so offensively dismissed.  

As it was,  these good points were rather lost amongst all the negativity. These points were

  • Empathy
  • Right of Appeal


I read the description by one breeder of the way in which her dog was examined during the check, and if her statement is truthful, then I feel very sorry for her.  For she described a cold and unfriendly procedure in which the vet did not speak to her at all.  

I personally would be mortified to be treated in such a way,  and whilst I understand that the whole process must have been very stressful for the vets concerned at such a high profile occasion,  it is important that exhibitors,  who have so much at stake,  are treated courteously during these checks. 

The right of appeal

I suspect that a right of appeal is something that the KC might well be inclined to consider,  and which the public would support.   It does not seem unreasonable after all,  to ask for a second opinion.

Overall though,  I think this document has to be one of the biggest missed opportunities that I have ever read.    I hope that the Canine Alliance will consider putting their next official presentation to the Kennel Club in a more appropriate style.

Edited on 5th April to add:  An official response to Mike Gadsby’s presentation from the Kennel Club has now been posted here

A difficult task

I appreciate that the Canine Alliance has a difficult task ahead.  It has to retain the support and membership that it has engaged so far and to do that it will need to satisfy the requirements of its supporters.   It also has to convince the wider public that is has the best interest of dogs at heart,  and given its poor start,  this may be the toughest challenge of all.

If the supporters of the CA genuinely want to see dogs benefiting from the birth of this organisation,  and I believe that many of them do,  they will need to face some stiff opposition within their own ranks.

There will be opposition to changes in breed standards and to the interpretation of those standards that have to date allowed the continued breeding of dogs with disabilities.   There will always be opposition to changes in the status quo.

In amidst all these responsibilities the organisation has to arrange a company structure, articles of association, a management plan, set up administration and a myriad of other responsibilities.  All with a team of volunteers that have their own lives to lead in addition to their roles for this new project.    And their own views on how things should be done.

I hope that they make it.   I suspect that they will need an experienced PR team to turn things around.

For the future?

Another organisation campaigning for canine welfare ought to be a good thing.   A health tested pedigree register would surely be a good thing. 

But public support is essential.   And to get that support the Canine Alliance must recognise and address the overwhelming issue of exaggerated conformation.    Because the British public is determined to see an end to it.