NRA chief executive Andrew Mercer speaks to UK Shooting News about his plans for Bisley Camp, the NRA – and beyond.
When UK Shooting News interviewed Andrew Mercer, the National Rifle Association’s chief executive, over the UKPSA insurance allegations, he also spoke at length about his wider plans for the NRA. All information was correct as of three weeks ago – regular readers will be aware that UKSN is a blog and its author does all this in his spare time.
Divisions in UK shooting
“There are factors and groups and we try hard to avoid that – it’s not the reality of where we sit”, said Mercer, commenting on the UKPSA situation.
“Across all parts of the NRA, membership is growing and we have a [financial] surplus,” he added, pointing out that the NRA spent three quarters of a million pounds on capital expenditure last year. “Those who think the NRA is on its uppers are wrong.”
“Bisley is the engine room that drives our activity. Our focus is on moving to the regions,” he continued, stating that 50 people applied for the job of regional ranges manager when it was recently advertised.
Spencer Site and the posh caravans
Over the last year the NRA has cleared the old caravan Site 4 and rebranded it as “Spencer Site”, complete with NRA-approved static caravans and proper fixed services such as electricity. The site has caused much controversy, with many scratching their heads at the prices for the pitches and the vans.
“I have a £5 bet that all the pitches will be sold by [this year]’s Imperial Meeting” says a very bold Mercer. “But I made a misjudgment – I thought people would spend £25,000 but we’ve not sold a caravan for less than £40,000.”
A sign affixed to the NRA Range Office currently trumpets how 50% of the pitches have so far been sold off-plan.
“Where should I spend £100,000 on roads,” asks Mercer. His biggest roadbuilding scheme is re-tarmacing of the range road that runs around to the rear of the 600yds firing point on Century. In addition, the area in front of Fultons and the range road to Melville are also in line for a revamp. Last year alone the NRA spent between £60,000 and £70,000 building “properly engineered roads”, according to Mercer.
What about the road that runs down to Short Siberia, notorious for its deep potholes and ruts? Apparently, planning problems aside (the road sits in a different council area from the rest of the camp and so is subject to a different planning regime), there are environmental concerns about worms which stop a proper metalled road from being built. It seems that environmentalists in the Surrey Heath council area think the current gravel-based, pothole-ridden surface allow the worms a better chance of survival, when moving across the road, than a proper tarmac surface would.
Mercer does not explicitly say that this is utter nonsense. He does, however, point out that Short Siberia accounts for 40% of the NRA’s range hire revenues. It is followed in those stakes by Century, then Melville, and finally Stickledown, the iconic 1,200yds range at the north of Bisley Camp.
New electronic targets and other range works
What else is the NRA doing for its ranges? Six new Kongsberg electronic targets are due to be deployed on Butt 19 for use between 100yds and 300yds, along with new target frames. Mercer tells us that these electronic targets will be available to hire by the hour: “It’s a bit of a revolution in how we deliver our services.”
He also drops in an interesting snippet: it costs about £24,000 to replace a full butt’s worth of targets on Century. The overhaul involves replacing the old design with a completely new frame, set of rollers and all the rest. “The existing design is not very good and we want to get the core stuff right,” said Mercer.
How are the target shotgun works on Cheylesmore going? “Phase 1 is done, phase 2 is a work in progress and we hope to complete phase 3 after that,” he says, going on to mention the NRA’s plans for new target shotgun bays behind Melville range.
He ends our conversation by dropping in a useful snippet for young shooters: there is a 40% discount for NRA members under 25 entering NRA competitions. That alone is well worth having, and is a very strong incentive to join the NRA when you consider that U21s in fulltime education qualify for free membership of the NRA.
All in all, the association seems to be getting itself onto a sound business footing. Regular users of Bisley Camp won’t have failed to notice the quality of the ranges improving, with drainage works and new range floors being laid in a number of locations.
While the NRA’s financial situation seems to be improving going by the figures Mercer mentions, things like the disappearance of the HOG rally won’t have done much good for the Bisley clubhouses. Neither will the NRA’s reputation have improved thanks to the ongoing saga of Jessica Bayldon-Lee’s rifle, the missing scope and bolt and the questions raised over NRA armoury security, as reported in Gun Mart and mentioned in the latest NRA journal. Other whisperings have reached UKSN’s ears.