“I have had gundogs for about 30 years,” Francesca tells us from her home in rural Oxfordshire. Originally starting out competing flatcoated retrievers, she then moved over to labradors about 11 years ago. Around that same time, she became Field Trial Secretary for Southern & Western Counties Field Trials Society. “I have always preferred to work in the background setting things up, I don’t enjoy the limelight. I am more than happy to slog away at the admin to get things moving. Now that I have retired from my role as Field Trial Secretary and having been joint Chairman last year with Lisa Harris, I felt it would not be impossible to take on the behemoth that is The Game Fair. I have known Barbara Kuen, who has been the main gundog figurehead at the event for years, and I have been involved in some way since 2011 so it didn’t feel too unrealistic becoming Gundog Chairman.”

Having grown up with labradors as a child, when Francesca’s sons were little she acquired a chocolate labrador. “She was from working lines but we only ever had her as a pet. I had thought of having something different to a lab but you just cannot beat them around young children. She was totally dependable and a wonderful family member.” Once her boys were older, Francesca decided to go down the flatcoat route. “My uncle had had that breed so it was the natural choice for me. Over the years I have had around 12 flatcoats. My best one was the second one I owned, who won mine and his first field trial aged just two but sadly died of cancer three months later. Flatcoats were the reason my path originally crossed with Barbara Kuen, as she also works the breed.”

Today, Francesca has reverted back to labradors with four at home spanning three generations and goes picking-up locally three or four days a week. “I have two yellows and two blacks, which means no matter what I am wearing I get covered in hairs! I can see why people favour having just one colour as it is much more practical.” Interestingly, all four dogs were the last to be picked in the litter. “It is funny how I always end up with the puppy no-one else wants but in my eyes, all four have been pick of litter to me, with one home bred bitch qualifying for the IGL Retriever Championships.”

Her role as Gundog Chairman at The Game Fair is no small undertaking. Francesca needs to manage the judges, commentators, stewards, arena staff, scorers and demonstrators, as well as handlers and dogs from all over the world. “This equates to around 100 helpers and 140 competitors with dogs that need to be in the right place, at the right time, on the right day. Having worked in admin for my entire career, I rather enjoy event organisation especially when it involves gundogs!”

So, what can readers expect to see over the three days? In the Home International Arena on Friday is the HPR Home International, where last year’s winners - Team England – will return to defend their title.  Teams of four dogs and handlers from each home nation - England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – will test their hunting, steadiness to shot as well as marked and blind retrieval skills. Only in its third year, this is a fairly new competition which reflects the growing interest in HPRs. On the Saturday there is the 53rd annual Home International with five spaniels and five retrievers making up each team from the four Home Nations. Last year’s winners - Team Ireland - will be back again this year in a bid to claim the top spot. Meanwhile in the Hertford Arena on Friday and Saturday the Euro Challenge will take place. Seven teams from across Europe, consisting of one labrador, one golden retriever and one other breed, will battle it out for a place on the podium. Italy won last year with the dogs putting on a nail-biting performance. On Sunday we are holding a brand new competition – a Minority Gundog Breed Challenge. Each minority gundog breed club has been invited to put forward a team of three to represent their breed, with retrievers in the morning and spaniels in the afternoon. The idea is the competition will showcase the remarkable abilities, talents and versatility of gundog breeds that have historically received less attention than popular breeds such as labradors, springers and cockers, while helping to encourage their preservation and appreciation.

The unpaid role of Gundog Chairman requires unwavering commitment and an undefined amount of time to deliver the competitions. It is a big role, on which lots of people depend. Without passionate volunteers like Francesca and Barbara, the world of gundogs would be a much poorer place indeed.

For tickets, visit The Game Fair website to take advantage of the early bird discount which ends at midnight on Thursday 27 July.