A parliamentary debate yesterday (31/10/2016) in Westminster Hall triggered by a petition to ban grouse shooting (as well as an associated petition supporting grouse shooting) saw MPs voice overwhelming support for moorland management for shooting.

Although the debate was never going to result in legislation, it represented an important opportunity to get some facts concerning moorland management into Hansard, the Parliamentary record.

Ahead the debate an oral evidence session took place on 18th October. Head of Shooting at the Countryside Alliance, Liam Stokes, gave evidence at the session.

The debate was introduced by MP for St Austell and Newquay, Steve Double. A large number of MPs attended the debate with over twenty making contributions. Due to such high attendance from MPs the Chair for the debate, Phillip Davies MP, had to restrict speeches to seven minutes. The overwhelming majority of the MPs who spoke were supportive of grouse shooting. Not one MP called for a ban.

During the debate, Countryside Alliance chairman Simon Hart MP said:

“Those people pushing for grouse shooting to be criminalised have made no assessment of the economic or ecological costs. No assessment of the social consequences. Those who want to ban grouse shooting need to sell the alternatives. They haven’t done so. “

Simon Hart went on to describe the environmental degradation that had occurred in those parts of Wales where grouse shooting had been banned. He argued that biodiversity had been damaged by a lack of investment and that crows and other predators now dominate in the areas where grouse shooting had been banned.

Commenting on the situation since the cessation of grouse shooting, he said:

Lapwing has become extinct and golden plover numbers have fallen by 90 per cent.”

Sir Nicholas Soames MP echoed his comments:

“There are more golden plover in one 5000 acre estate in North Yorkshire than the whole of Wales.” 

Pointing out the historic recovery of the hen harrier in the UK, he said:

“One hundred years ago there were no hen harriers on mainland UK; today there are around 645 breeding pairs.”

Speaking in the debate, DUP MP, Jim Shannon, said:

“Extra regulations or licensing would add to the bureaucracy and therefore the cost of grouse moor management. We already have control.

“Grouse moor owners in England spend about £52.5 million every year on moorland management, 90% of which is private investment—the equivalent of £1 million a week. I wonder how those who want driven grouse shooting to end will manage those vast moors, staff their management, and pay for it.

“The economic spin offs of grouse shooting are worth over £15 million every year to the uplands. Grouse shooting must be encouraged.”

Labour MP Angela Smith said:

“The moors in my area are characterised by a long tradition of grouse shooting. I understand the evidence for the economic impact that the banning of grouse shooting would have. 

“One is still able to enjoy the wonders of nature on my grouse moors, curlews, snipe, the golden plover and the fantastic mountain hare.”

Angela Smith went on to stress that the balance needed to be struck between conserving heather habitat and blanket bog, she also raised concerns about the illegal killing of hen harriers:

“The breeding of hen harriers this year has been poor, and it is becoming clear that progress in delivering a sustainable future for our moorlands is beginning to stall, stutter and shudder to a halt. It will do so unless something is done to stop the persecution of our birds of prey. To put it quite simply, the killing must stop. It must stop. It is quite clear that that is a prerequisite to progress.”

Closing the debate, DEFRA Minister Therese Coffey said:

“The Government supports shooting, but wildlife should be respected, law should be upheld in letter plus spirit. 

“Moorland management is vital for a bio diverse landscape. Healthy heather makes good habitat for ground nesting birds. Control of fox populations also key. 

“No one wants to see landscape degraded. The Government is investing into peatland restoration.” 

The Minister emphasised the importance of the hen harrier action plan and that it was still at an early stage. She confirmed that the Government had no plans to introduce licensing that there was already a lot of regulation in place. Will continue to monitor. Government wants to see a vibrant uplands supporting biodiversity.

The Minister pointed out that:

“Rotational burning was very important for the preservation of heather. Natural England consent is needed for burning at a site of special scientific interest. In 2013 Natural England study on the effects of managed burning found no direct evidence specifically relating to the effect of burning on water course flow or the risk of downstream flood events.”

Following the debate, Liam Stokes, Countryside Alliance Head of Shooting Campaigns, said:

“We’re pleased the government has acknowledged the value of grouse shooting and I know that all those involved in grouse shooting will be heartened by the overwhelming support from Parliamentarians. It is notable that not one of the twenty something MPs who spoke in the debate supported a ban on grouse shooting.

“The economic contribution of grouse shooting is irreplaceable to some of the most remote communities in the countryside. Moorland management associated with grouse shooting is invaluable to the conservation of many ground nesting birds such as the curlew, which the RSPB called the highest conservation priority bird species in the UK.

“Where there are issues that need addressing in managing our uplands the answer is cooperation within upland communities to find solutions, not unjustified legislation imposed from Westminster. This campaign against grouse shooting has been unnecessarily divisive, driving wedges between groups that should be working together. We are all united in our desire to see an end to the illegal killing of raptors, and must speak with one voice saying that even one occurrence is too many. Everyone now needs to put this acrimony behind us and focus on working together to deliver the best possible outcomes for moorland species and communities.”