by Tim Bonner

This week I was sent a link to an interview between Green MSP Alison Johnstone and anti-shooting campaigner Chris Packham which scaled extraordinary heights of lunacy.

After decades of dealing with the animal rights movement I sometimes think I am becoming immune to its madness, but then something as breathtakingly illogical as this comes along and shocks even me. 

Ms Johnstone, with a straight face, suggested a list of activities that would “make more sense economically” than grouse shooting and which she would prefer Scottish grouse moors to be used for. Renewable energy and, inevitably, rewilding (although the economic argument for that was obviously lacking) were on her list, but the really extraordinary suggestions were that grouse shooting should be replaced by house building and commercial forestry.

Ms Johnstone talks a lot about grouse shooting, but either she is challenged by the concept of a grouse moor, or it is now the policy of the Scottish Green Party to build houses a thousand feet up a mountain on wind-blasted moors. Even if she could sustain the economic arguments for building houses in areas which have defied human habitation for millennia, she is - apparently - an elected politician for a party which allegedly prioritises environmental issues. It is difficult to imagine anything more environmentally destructive than digging up and concreting over heather moorland for housing development.

As ridiculous as Ms Johnstone’s plan to build housing estates on Scotland’s mountains is, it is less worrying than her plan to carpet them in monoculture forestry. In the real world no-one is going to build houses on grouse moors, because no-one is going to buy them. As the recent history of Britain’s uplands show, however, if you incentivise commercial forestry the hills and heather will be planted with trees. Ms Johnstone went on to develop her argument stating that planting forestry on Scotland’s grouse moors would generate an additional £973 million annually to the Scottish economy; so she is clearly proposing a massive expansion of the commercial forestry sector in Scotland. Again, one must ask if she has forgotten which party she represents.

The RSPB has called planting commercial forestry on blanket bogs “disastrous” and has removed thousands of acres of commercial forestry from its Forsinard Flows reserve. Planting shallower peat moors would be no more popular with real conservationists. The RSPB has also been very clear about its concerns about the impact of commercial forestry on biodiversity pointing out that species such as the curlew that breed on open moorland cannot survive close to plantations, which have almost no ecological value except as a haven for predators such as crows and foxes. 

So, what was the reaction of the self-proclaimed conservationist Chris Packham to these absurd and environmentally disastrous proposals? Not a word of disagreement, not a suggestion of concern. Instead he agreed wholeheartedly with Ms Johnstone. Sadly, this is yet more evidence that the motivation of animal rights campaigners like Mr Packham and Ms Johnstone has little, if anything, to do with biodiversity or the environment and everything to do with a hatred of people who shoot and hunt. 
If you thought no-one was perverse enough to prefer that Scotland’s moors were covered with houses or sitka spruce, rather than see people being able to shoot a few grouse, I am afraid you were wrong.

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