Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes: On Monday MPs debated grouse shooting in Parliament for the first time in living memory. The debate was triggered by an electronic petition of over 100,000 ‘signatures’ to ban driven grouse shooting.

We had no concerns about a debate which was always going to be an opportunity to rehearse the economic, environmental and social benefits of grouse shooting and many MPs with grouse moors in their constituencies and who have experience of the issue took the opportunity to do exactly that. What is perhaps more interesting is how activists are able to manufacture dissent and create an impression of public interest in issues which are actually of almost no interest to the public at large.

I was particularly struck by a senior MP and a RSPB employee who both suggested that there was ‘huge public interest’ in grouse shooting. This is nonsense, as our polling shows, but it is worrying because it is by creating the illusion of mass support for any cause that the attitudes of any politician or membership organisation can be most effectively influenced.

The reality is, of course, that virtually no-one cares about this issue other than the minority who live, work and shoot on moors, and a small number of people who are desperate to stop them. Before the debate we published a poll, carried out by ORB, which asked 2046 people what were the most important issues facing the country and not a single person spontaneously mentioned grouse shooting, grouse moors, or anything to do with grouse. We then asked the same 2046 people whether there were any other issues that were important to them, and still not a single person mentioned grouse shooting, grouse moors, or anything to do with grouse. In all there were more than 5,000 individual issues raised, but grouse were not mentioned once.

We then went on to ask whether people thought a list of issues were either important or unimportant. Of all the issues listed by far the most people, over three quarters (77%), thought that grouse shooting was not important compared to 37% who thought wind farms were unimportant, 36% building on the greenbelt and just 28% who thought mobile connectivity was unimportant. There is simply no way to sustain an argument that there is ‘huge public interest’ in grouse shooting.

Like practically every activity grouse shooting has both benefits and costs, but unlike most activities grouse shooting has a small number of people who are motivated against it, usually because of their perception of those who shoot grouse rather than a fair analysis of those costs and benefits. Indeed the initiator of the petition and debate has referred to grouse shooting as ‘the Tory party at play’, which rather betrays his motivation.

Those who are so motivated will jump on any justification to further their cause, and it is critical that they are given as little ammunition as possible. On the issue of the illegal killing of raptors, in particular, grouse shooting will remain vulnerable as long as even a tiny minority maintain an outdated and unacceptable attitude towards birds of prey. By eliminating the last elements who believe that the illegal killing birds of prey is acceptable, and being able to show the advantages of grouse moor management for all raptor species, shooting will isolate those extremists who want to ban at all costs. That would also allow the many sensible environmentalists who accept the great benefits that grouse shooting brings to give it their full support.

Read some highlights of the debate, which features strong contributions from Richard Benyon MP, Sir Nicholas Soames MP, Charles Walker MP, Jim Shannon MP, Angela Smith MP and Simon Hart MP among many others.

Follow Tim on Twitter @CA_TimB