Wildfowling on the Solway
In the summer of 1953 a group of dedicated wildfowlers from the old county of Cumberland met in the Victoria Viaduct Hotel in Carlisle with the intention of forming the first ever wildfowling club on the Solway.
At this first meeting of what was to be the Cumberland and District Wildfowlers Association, the chair was taken by Mr John Strong and the Secretary’s position was filled by Mr Eric Stokoe. One of the aims of this new Association was to secure leased shootings on the English side of the Solway. The Association became affiliated to the Wildfowling Association of Great Britain and Ireland (WAGBI) which was seen as the governing body in wildfowling at that time. This new Association developed a constitution and rules and had a national identity in wildfowling circles.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1954 it was decided to approach wildfowlers on the Scottish side of the Solway in order to circle the Solway Estuary with a single Association, capable of balancing the wildfowling activities along with the sensitive conservation issues of the area. This aim was achieved and a Scottish Branch was at first formed, and then encompassed into the new Cumberland and Dumfriesshire Wildfowlers Association later that year. Records show that this new Association had the healthy bank balance that year of £180 5s 9d. Well known local names became involved with the new Association, including the respected wildfowler Mr Bill Powell, guide and author of wildfowling books. He was later to become the Association Chairman
1955 saw tragedy strike the Association when a wildfowler and founder member of the Association Mr J McEwan was swept to his death in the strong Solway currents while out in search of duck. Following on from this tragedy the Association, in partnership with WAGBI, developed the ‘distress shot’, a combination of a single shot, a pause, followed by two rapid shots, a pause and a single shot again. This system remains in being today.
March 1957 saw the development of Area Branches in the Association at Dumfries, Annan and Gretna, Carlisle and later one in the Stewartry. Solicitors and Accountants were appointed, the constitution and rules adapted to meet the new structure and records show the membership standing at over 300.
In May 1958 the Association became known as the Solway Wildfowlers Association, and moved forward under the chairmanship of Bill Powell. Leases were secured on both sides of the Solway and negotiations were entered into in relation to proposals to create the Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve.
Membership of this new Solway Wildfowlers Association flourished so much that at a Committee meeting in the Central Hotel in Annan in 1958 it was agreed that the total membership should not exceed 750 members.
At this same meeting the Earl of Mansfield agreed to become the President of the Association.
Over the following decade the Association grew and became involved in many issues which affected the Solway Estuary including co-ordinated goose counts and further protracted negotiations in relation to an extension of the Caerlaverock NNR.
1972 saw Sir Hector Monro, Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire become President.
1975 brought about the retirement of Bill Powell, now 75 years old, as Chairman, and at a packed annual general meeting in the Market Hall in Annan, in his retrial speech he stated “I want my remaining years of wildfowling to be peaceful and without the strain of office.” He was succeeded by Mr Cyril Atkinson, another founder member who was to further steer the Association through many years of change across the Solway and in wildfowling in general.
Moving into the 80s the Association now had a solid membership and saw the chair being taken by Mr Arthur Thirlwell, another founder member. This era also saw the death knell of WAGBI and the birth of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) which the Association then became affiliated to.
Towards the end of the 80s there came a monumental change in the Association which saw a split between the north and south side of the Solway, and the formation of two new Associations, the Scottish Solway Wildfowlers Association and the South Solway Wildfowlers Association. New constitutions and rule were again drawn up and under the chairmanship of Arthur Thirlwell the SSWA moved on. The Association took some bold steps under Arthur’s chairmanship and through this period purchased two merses on the Solway at East Upper and then Mid Upper Priestside. The purchase of these merses was made possible by assistance from the BASC land purchase scheme.
1992 saw Arthur retire after many years at the helm, and a new chair appointed in Mr David Campbell. Arthur went on to become President until his retirement in 2014. As it stands today, David is still the Chairman and the President is now Mr Ray Schiller.
Much slimmer now, and with no branches as such, the SSWA still operate as a major wildfowling club on the north side of the Solway. Keeping pace with the host of changes that new legislation and reform has brought about is a challenge, however the Association is still in good shape and is still a strong voice in the wildfowling and conservation arena.