Defra Secretary of State, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, has described people who shoot as “some of the people who are most engaged in conservation work”, and described country sports as “essential” for biodiversity.

The Secretary of State was speaking at the Countryside Alliance’s ‘Brexit Breakfast’ at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, where he was questioned by CA Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, on a range of issues including environmental policy, wildlife management, animal welfare, and trade, in the context of leaving the EU.

Tim Bonner stressed that leaving the EU could have consequences for shooters in the UK as Europe is a vital market for the shooting industry. He said our trading relationship with Europe was “mutually beneficial” as we import large numbers of shot guns, rifles, ammunition, and game birds every year, and in return Europe is our most important export market for game meat and high class British made guns. The Secretary of State said that the Department for Exiting the EU was “completely aware” of the particular requirements of the shooting industry and said “we absolutely understand that maintaining supply chains, and tariff free trade, is critical to every product that is integral to the success of the rural economy, which includes shooting”.

Speaking in front of an audience of over 150 people, the Secretary of State said “sporting activities that take place in the countryside are essential to making sure that we have the biodiversity we want to see”. He went on to say that “if we think of some of those people who are most engaged in conservation, people who for example are managing land for shooting purposes… everyone can see the way the land is managed is responsible for the return, and health, of birds and other wildlife which we all want to see”.

The CA’s breakfast meeting on Monday (2 October) also included a discussion about the future of conservation and wildlife law outside of the EU. The Secretary of State said there are some EU regulations, which the UK helped to shape, that have improved our environment, but he said we now had the chance to be more “creative” in our approach. He championed an approach to countryside management where “those people who have proven that they are reliable and thoughtful stewards of the countryside are allowed a greater degree of respect and flexibility in the way in which they operate”.

Tim Bonner asked the Secretary of State how the opportunities of improved wildlife law could become a reality when the debate, and legislation, were so often based on prejudice. The Secretary of State responded by saying “you can’t legislate away emotion, but what you can do is create new institutions which capture a desire to operate on the basis of the evidence”. He said that Brexit provided the opportunity to create new institutions, which had happened following previous moments of “constitutional change” such as the creation of the Bank of England and the Royal Society following the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.

Commenting on the event, Tim Bonner said “The comments from the Secretary of State are to be welcomed and will certainly provide some reassurance to the shooting community. The Countryside Alliance will continue to campaign for shooting throughout the Brexit process and beyond to ensure that shooting and the game market continue to thrive in our new relationship with Europe, and new domestic policies”.

You can listen to a full recording of the meeting and you can also watch a video of the meeting on Facebook.

A full write up of our events at the Conservative Party Conference, including a separate discussion meeting on the future of wildlife law with Sir Roger Scruton, can be found here.