Today (Thursday 20 September) the board of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) voted to end the leasing of pheasant shooting on the Welsh Government estate, following pressure from the Labour Government. The decision was taken despite NRW having spent over £40,000 on a review into the issue that recommended that pheasant shooting be allowed to continue, and an earlier review that showed that the Welsh Government estate could sustainably generate £500,000 for NRW if they maximised pheasant shooting opportunities. Questions will now be asked over how such a mess was made of this decision-making process.
The vote is the culmination of years of pressure from Animal Aid and the League Against Cruel Sports, organisations that have consistently called for science and evidence to be sidelined in favour of opinion polling.
In response to this campaigning, NRW commissioned a report into the use of firearms on the Welsh Government estate, even though Countryside Alliance research revealed that an earlier report commissioned by NRW had found that the Welsh Government Estate could sustainable generate £500,000 from game shooting. This report, whilst unnecessary, was admirably focussed on scientific evidence. The Countryside Alliance did not support all the report’s recommendations, but was pleased the report clearly found that game shooting delivers on the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources and on the Well-Being goals for Wales as set out in the Future Generations Wales Act.
It was at this point that Labour Minister for Environment Hannah Blythyn intervened, asking that the scientific evidence be disregarded in the light of her Government’s objections to pheasant shooting. She instructed the NRW board not to renew leases for pheasant shooting, causing the NRW board to publicly fret that their reputation would be damaged if they were seen to follow an instruction from the Minister that was “not evidence based”.
Today’s decision not to continue the lease for pheasant shooting means that NRW’s reputation as an evidence-based organisation has indeed been left in tatters. Game shooters and people involved in land management across the UK will be asking whether this disrespect for evidence is the approach to rural issues that we can expect from Labour in power.
Countryside Alliance Wales Director Rachel Evans said: “NRW have been forced to take a position that the Board knows is not supported by the evidence. The Board’s decision goes entirely against the recommendations of NRW’s own review into the subject which proved that pheasant shooting delivers on Sustainable Management of Natural Resources and on the Well-Being goals for Wales as set out in the Future Generations Wales Act.
“The Minister has put the board in this position with a letter that didn’t once refer to the evidence. The actions by NRW Board today will inevitably mean the loss of jobs in some of the most rural part of Wales who are dependent on shooting.
“I am bitterly disappointed with the tone of some Board members during the discussions today, especially Middleton who suggested that the shoot owners should find another way of making a living off the land. I will be writing to NRW requesting his immediate resignation from the board due to his inappropriate comment, which will have a detrimental effect on the Board’s relationship with communities that rely on the land based sector for their employment.”