The old Rolls-Royce glided down South Audley Street, stopping outside James Purdey & Sons. The Duke of Wellington, aged 97, was making one of his rare trips to London. His previous visit had been for a special service at Westminster Abbey to mark the 70th anniversary of El Alamein, of which he was a veteran. It was an important evening.
The Purdey Awards is one of shooting’s great nights. It’s when the sport’s best gathers in the famous Long Room in the world’s most iconic gun shop. Prizes are given for outstanding conservation projects and to win the coveted Gold Award is the greatest accolade a shoot can achieve.
This year’s winners included an organic farm in Yorkshire and a wildfowlers’ association in Lancashire, but the Gold Award went to the Weardale estate in Bishop Auckland, owned by Michael Stone. Bought in 1984, the estate has been turned into one of the pre-eminent grouse moors in the country.
The large-scale conservation work that has seen a dramatic increase in red-grouse numbers has also benefitted many other species, including the merlin, black grouse, golden plover, curlew, lapwing, grey partridge and woodcock, as well as a significant return of red squirrels. The Duke knows what matters.