Olympic hero Peter Wilson 'would have to quit sport' if shooting range closes
A row over lead falling from a shooting range could force an Olympic hero to quit the sport before he even has the chance to pick up a gun again.
Peter Wilson, of Glanvilles Wootton near Sherborne, shot to fame in the Double Trap event at London 2012 when he won gold.
The 26-year-old farmer’s son counts Southern Counties Shooting at Evershot as his home range, but would be faced with six-hour round trip he said would be impractical if closure fears become reality.
SCS manager Kevin Newton believes neighbouring land owner Alastair Cooper could launch a legal battle to prevent further shotgun lead falling on 60 acres of property.
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It is unlikely the range would be able to afford legal costs and could shut as soon as January – two months before Mr Wilson’s competitive return.
Former city banker Mr Cooper, of Sydling St Nicholas, denied he wants SCS to fold but said lead had polluted his land, resulting in the slaughter of livestock and a potential spread to waterways.
Mr Wilson hopes to represent Team Great Britain in Brazil in 2016 but said closing SCS – the biggest range in the United Kingdom – would not only end his career but also ruin the legacy left by the summer games.
“I had heard that closure was a possibility but I never thought it would come to this, never in a million years,” he said. “The impact would be dreadful. I do not have enough money to move, so living at home is my only option right now. I would have to quit the sport, I would have to call it a day – it is as drastic as that.
“How many other Peter Wilsons are out there that would be affected by this?”
Mr Newton told the Western Gazette that court action would bring an end to two years of argument, and could see the final shots fired at the range in January. Forty people employed by SCS would be forced out of work.
Mr Newton said: “We have had two years of sheer hell with this and our business is already considerably down. We have been here for 53 years and we have always dropped lead on to that land. I have had letters from the Environment Agency saying it’s only a low level pollution. We would go over there next week and clean it up if we could.
“Peter would have to travel to London and that’s totally impractical. You can put ranges on your own land but it’s not the same as shooting at a professional range.”
SCS boasts more than 450 fully-automatic traps. It was also the official training range for London 2012.
Mr Cooper said he had no desire to threaten the future of SCS. “We are not trying to close the shooting ground at all,” he said.
“How the shooting ground operates is nothing to do with me. All I have been trying to stop, as has the Environment Agency and Environmental Health, is levels of toxic lead falling on my agricultural farmland.
“Unfortunately the lead levels have become so high on the land neighbouring the shooting ground that my crops have been destroyed, my lambs have been slaughtered and the land has been declassified as organic.
“It is not fit for agricultural consumption, there is a fear about lead contamination into the watercourse and because of that the various agencies have said that further lead deposits have to stop because of those fears. We are seeking to stop further lead deposits and that is all it is.”
He also argued that SCS’s offer to clean the land would prove too expensive and he said did not want to sell the area. Mr Cooper said: “I have no desire for some sort of compulsory purchase of my land, I don’t think anybody would want that.
“They haven’t offered to take the lead away and as I understand that would cost a seven-figure sum because you are talking about an area covering more than 60 acres. It is contaminated a metre or so down so you are talking about vast amounts of contaminated matter.”
The Environment Agency is aware of the dispute but declined to comment.