Environment Minister, Dr Therese Coffey MP, has recognised the benefits of grouse moor management for the curlew, the species of greatest conservation concern in the UK, and has given a commitment to include predator control in conservation projects which Defra funds.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall Debate in Parliament on the lowland curlew, the Minister said “areas where predators are managed, such as areas for grouse shooting, have higher rates of breeding success and we have seen a threefold increase in curlew abundance”. The Minister stated that the Government was committed to reversing the decline in bird population, and recognised the need for predator control as part of this.
The half hour debate on Tuesday (17 October) was secured by Richard Benyon MP, a former Defra Minister, who stated that “there are just 300 breeding pairs of curlew south of Birmingham… If the current rate of decline continues they will vanish from the south of England in 8 years and are already extinct in my home county of Berkshire”. He highlighted the evidence which shows that predation is the main cause of this decline and said we need to stop being “squeamish” about the need to control predators such as foxes and carrion crows.
Mr Benyon pointed out that curlews are “thriving in the north of England on driven grouse moors. On these moors their population is maintained because fox numbers are controlled by gamekeepers”. He claimed that “there are more curlew on one grouse moor in Yorkshire than there are in the whole of Wales” where management for grouse shooting has largely ceased.
The need for lawful predator control was supported by Julian Sturdy MP, a member of the influential Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and Simon Hart MP, Chairman of the Countryside Alliance, who both cited examples of where controlling crow and rat populations had increased biodiversity.
The Minister recognised the challenges of predation to conservation work and said “I will ask Natural England and policy officials from Defra to address and include specifically the use of predator control in all current, and all future, projects that we [Defra] fund”.
Countryside Alliance Political Relations Manager, James Somerville-Meikle, commented “It was excellent to see the benefits of shooting for conservation and biodiversity put on the record and for this work to be acknowledged by the Government. We must continue to make sure that this translates into policy to ensure that the conservation work of farmers and people who shoot is supported”.