5 minute read
By James Swyer, GWCT Head of Press & Publications
“What is not clear is that banning driven grouse shooting would be good for the environment: in fact, I think that, on balance, it would be harmful”, said Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich as he drew Monday’s Westminster Hall debate on the future of driven grouse shooting to a close. Across an hour and a half, members of Parliament shared their views on the Wild Justice petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
As previously highlighted, the debate is almost a direct copy of that debated at length in 2016 and this did not escape the attention of MPs, with one noting that “there is probably less support than there was four years ago”. Despite the similarity of the petitions, the focus was slightly different, with increased focus on two issues that have become even more important in the intervening years – wildfires and employment.
The economic forecast for life without driven grouse shooting painted by several members was incredibly bleak, with MPs from both England and Scotland citing reviews into the important financial role it plays in isolated and fragile communities.
Many of the criticisms of grouse shooting as played out on social media and within the petition were given a firm rebuttal, with members criticising the petition’s ‘blindness to the positive impacts’ and highlighting a lack of understanding in the petition’s premise.
Jonathan Djanogly stated that “it is unfortunate that the premise of the petition lacks the understanding—or perhaps the willingness to acknowledge—that grouse shooting is all about working with the environment” and Dave Doogan, the sole representative from Scotland, going further and saying that he found the petition’s title “a little troublesome, because it gives the sense that if I do not see things in exactly the same way as others see them, I am somehow wilfully blind. That is not a very appropriate start to such an important and nuanced debate.”
To open the debate, Kerry McCarthy read out sections of her discussion with one of the petitioners, Chris Packham, and stated “I don’t accept the conservation argument”, calling the benefits of grouse shooting ‘dubious’. In consideration of those who campaigned for a ban, she also said “the people who manage the moorlands have not been prepared to meet them halfway and to address some of the issues—for example, hen harrier persecution”, before the rising numbers of chicks was brought to her attention.
Greg Smith also challenged notion of moors being bad for biodiversity, noting that “far from being barren landscapes, they are wildlife havens.” He also stated that “if we want to prevent and reduce those [wildfire] emissions, controlled firebreaks are a necessary part of our toolkit”, challenging many of the arguments those opposed to grouse shooting hold dear.
The lack of a credible alternative on offer also drew reproach, with Tom Hunt pointing out that “I did not come across any evidence that said that an alternative use would promote better natural capital than the unique environment that we are dealing with here” and Greg Smith noting that “Those calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting need to set out a viable alternative—an alternative vision for our uplands.”
One area of consensus was the managed nature of our landscape. Those on both sides of the debate drew attention to this, noting that “humans have shaped our environment for generations”, that “almost all our landscapes are managed” and that “grouse moors are not natural landscapes”. While the final claim seems intended as a criticism, as David Simmonds noted “where we humans have created an ecosystem, we have a responsibility to manage it.”
When it came to the benefit of these landscapes to biodiversity, GWCT research came to the fore. Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, cited the GWCT Peatland Report and well as the vast array of birdlife on Spaunton Moor, as managed by working conservationist George Winn-Darley.
Wildlife crime was also highlighted by several participants, first by Kerry McCarthy, but also by Kevin Hollinrake, Dave Doogan and Olivia Blake.
“An act of environmental, ecological and economic vandalism”
This was not a description of driven grouse shooting, as the petitioners might have hoped, but rather what bringing forth a ban on the practice might be. Robert Goodwill, whose Scarborough and Whitby constituency is home to grouse moors, substantiated his claim by describing the fragile habitat moorland management sustains, local populations of red-listed birds such as merlin and the important role that controlled burning can have on wildfire prevention.
It was noticeable quite how many participants gave their unequivocal opposition to a ban. Of these, David Simmons claimed that “It seems clear to me that the proposed ban is likely to produce a net disadvantage to our environment and our biodiversity, and must therefore be opposed”, while Dave Doogan spoke of his experience north of the border and that “any demand for outright bans on established economic models, with the jobs and livelihoods of my constituents at risk, leaves me very concerned”.
Rebecca Pow, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, gave her assessment of the debate, highlighting that “the activity of grouse shooting does indeed bring jobs to the area … it also brings investment to some of the remotest areas of the country, particularly in the north of England.”
Her comments were echoed by Tom Hunt in closing, who noted that “what is very clear is that banning it would seem to provide very little gain for a great deal of pain, and from what I can see the pain would be in those isolated rural communities. The people paying the greatest cost would not be the richest; they would be the very people who, right now, we should be thinking about helping.”
The grouse debate in numbers
- 111,965 – signed the petition to ban driven grouse shooting (0.2% of adult population)
- 90 minutes – Petitions Committee debate in Westminster Hall (watch it in full here)
- 13 MPs – spoke in the debate
- 13,627 – words spoken at the debate (read the online Hansard here)