When you think of an auditor you’d be forgiven for imagining a serious character armed with a clipboard eager to find fault. Understandably this unnerving parody might put-off some shoots from signing up to British Game Assurance (BGA) membership for fear of failing the inspection and word getting out. The prospect of having your pride-and-joy rearing pens perused by an auditor who knows nothing about the countryside or game shooting is hardly appealing. However the reality is very different. Here, we speak to Sarah Broomhead and Tom Moore who are auditors from SAI Global Assurance, BGA’s appointed Certification Body, to debunk the myths surrounding the process and the people.
Last June SAI Global was selected by BGA after a tendering process to audit and carry out assessments on registered shoots and game farms to show they adhere to the highest welfare and environmental standards by embracing the BGA standards and ensuring traceability within the food chain from egg to plate. It was a great fit for SAI Global to move into this area which suits the skill set of many of the existing auditors. Sarah and Tom – along with the team and Scheme Manager Alex MacKellar travel the country auditing BGA-registered shoots against either the lowland or upland standards.
“We get that the idea of being audited can feel daunting,” commented Yorkshire-based Sarah, adding: “I’d like to think we bring a fresh approach. I am 29 and actively partake in shooting. I have been beating since I could walk and I have worked my two labradors for the past 11 seasons picking up on a local grouse moor.” Likewise, Norfolk-based Tom is aged just 28 and cut his teeth as an underkeeper for three years after completing a diploma in gamekeeping and wildlife conservation. “Once the shoot owner and gamekeeping team actually meet us on the day of the audit, they feel at ease. They soon realise that we are not here to pass or fail them, but to help them achieve the standards. Most shoots do not achieve assured status on first inspection. While we are not in an advisory role, we can point out what needs to be worked on and point them in the right direction.”
Before the BGA existed, no-one ever inspected shoots or asked them to work to standards, so this is brand new territory for many of them. “Trying to change an entire industry’s mindset and attitude can feel like there’s a mountain to climb, but the shooting industry is now fully on board,” explained Tom, adding: “More and more we are visiting shoots and being blown away by the standards they are working to. So many are going above and beyond. It is really heartening to see.”
Both Sarah and Tom feel passionately about the work they do. “To my mind we are all in this together,” said Tom, “I am doing this job because I believe in the BGA. It is important to remember that ultimately what we are all working towards is an assured product that will will be sold through supermarkets and restaurants,and give consumers confidence to buy it. It is important not to lose sight of that.”
So what happens on audit day? On arrival, Sarah and Tom are normally met by the shoot owner or manager, as well as the gamekeeping team. Audits are carried out every 16-18 months, and look at everything from environmental and wildlife areas, record keeping, the picking-up team, chiller, rearing pens, the drives and the game cart. The audit takes between two and four hours depending on the size of the shoot. “We can’t just audit outside of the shooting season, which is what shoots might prefer. It is really important that we see the shoots at different points in the year so that we get a full picture.”
So what happens if they spot something that is not quite right? The shoot has 28 days to iron out any minor or major non-conformances. A minor could be some missing paperwork and a major non-conformance is when a member has a total disregard to the standard and has made no attempt to achieve. In a small number of instances if a major non-conformance is identified, the owner will be contacted by the certification team and suspended until correct rectification is accomplished. Examples of major non conformances could be overstocking of release pens, or incorrect predator/pest control. Either way, the inspection is not marked as a pass or fail. Sarah explained: “As we are looking around the shoot we will make the owner aware that an element is not quite up to scratch. In my experience, in every instance the problem is fixed within the alloted time frame. What are the most common non-conformaces found during the inspection? Not being registered with the Environmental Health Department or Local Authority as a food business; not keeping medicine purchase and use records, not recording the daily temperatures of the chiller when it’s in use and incorrect disposal of game unfit for human consumption and processed carcasses. All easy fixes.
There are very few shoots out there that are stagnating. They want to evolve and push boundaries. This is an exciting time for the shooting industry. There is a sea change in perspective sweeping through which will soon silence critics.”
Of course, being audited is a great marketing tool and will ultimately help shoots stand out and sell more let days. Tom added: “Guns also need to vote with their feet and only book shoots that have been rubber stamped by the BGA.”
The benefits of being assured are many – for starters it demonstrates to the shooting industry’s critics, the Government and non-government organisations that the industry is not only willing, but also able to self-regulate. Secondly, the BGA is able to market an assured product, previously a significant block in developing the market for game. The BGA is confident that this will result in members getting paid a premium as demand continues to increase for BGA assured game over non-assured. Lastly, as a certified member you will be able to use the BGA logo when marketing your shoot and game to promote yourselves.
So if you haven’t already, use today to contact the BGA and take the first steps to getting your shoot rubber stamped. It is not as daunting as you perhaps once thought.