Olympic hero may give up sport in 'organic' land row
Olympic shooting star Peter Wilson fears he may be forced to quit the sport after his practice range was accused of polluting a multi-millionaire neighbour’s land with pellets.
The gold medallist has clashed with wealthy Alastair Cooper, a former equities trader who retired from the City aged 39 and bought himself a £6 million Dorset estate.
But he claims that lead pellets from Southern Counties Shooting (SCS) – where Wilson trains – are raining down onto his farmland, putting livestock at risk and polluting the land.
The owner of SCS fears a legal row over the issue could force the business to close as early as January with the loss of 40 jobs.
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If that happens Mr Wilson, 26, will have to make a six-hour round trip to London to practice – forcing him to hang up his shotgun.
He said: “I had heard that closure was a possibility but I never thought it would come to this, never in a million years. The impact would be dreadful. I don’t 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?“
The shooting range at Evershot has more than 450 fully-automatic traps and was an official training range for London 2012.
It has been the long-term training base of Mr Wilson – winner of the Double Trap event at London 2012 – who lives just a few miles away at Glanvilles Wootton near Sherborne.
Mr Cooper, a former head of European equity derivatives at Morgan Stanley, bought the neighbouring 3,000 acre estate at Sydling St Nicholas for
£6 million in 2001.
He set about restoring the heavily-farmed land into an organic paradise where he now rears and sells traditional breeds of sheep, pig and cattle under the Sydling Brook Organic label.
Mr Cooper said he does not want the shooting range to close and is simply trying to protect his land. He said: “We are not trying to close the shooting ground at all. 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.”
However Kevin Newton, manager of SCS, cannot afford to wage a legal battle against his wealthy neighbour and will have to close rather than see the case go to court.
“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.”