The Last English Poachers
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Just two hours' drive west of London, a secret way of life that has been operating for centuries is clinging to a fragile existence. This is the world of the last English poachers - men who have lived off the land, taking game and wildlife from the big country estates, risking the wrath of gamekeepers in order to feed their families and make a modest livelihood. Poachers have lived cheek by jowl with landowners and the gentry throughout the history of the British class system. Their customs, hunting skills and knowledge of animals is comparable to that of indigenous communities in pre-industrial societies, yet the poacher has been vilified, ridiculed and, in olden times, even put to death for his activities. Hence, a war of attrition has been waged across the generations, played out in the woodlands of Britain, often undercover of night in clandestine operations comparable to military manoeuvres. Bob and BrianTovey are poachers of the old stripe: a father and son of 75 and 50 years old respectively, who are continuing their ancestors' traditions, reluctant to surrender the old ways of sourcing food from nature. Writer John McDonald has obtained unique access to the men's lives and histories, and tells their fascinating story in their own words. The book is filled with anecdotes both moving and hilarious, as their sense of self-preservation, mistrust of outsiders and suspicions of modern technology express themselves in daily life. It is set against the backdrop of country sports as they used to be - and will colourfully explain the shoots, the once-legal coursing meets, the centuries' old techniques of lamping, ferreting and netting and, of course, how the poachers outwit the keepers and police and escape with their quarry. It is a genuine, colourful and offbeat chronicle that documents rural life from a whole new perspective and a sense of humour.