by Tim Bonner

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result then the proponents of the Westminster Petitions Committee debate on banning driven grouse shooting, which has now been scheduled for 21st June, are clearly mad. You will not be surprised, therefore, to hear that two of the petition’s backers are television celebrity Chris Packham and ex-RSPB director Mark Avery. 

The same individuals previously spent years promoting a petition on exactly the same issue which eventually led to a call for evidence, oral evidence session and debate in Westminster Hall in 2016. That process was an unmitigated disaster for Messrs Packham and Avery. The call for written submissions generated some extraordinary testimonies to the positive impact grouse shooting has on upland communities with gamekeepers, contractors, hoteliers and even plumbers writing to tell parliament that their livelihoods depended on it. The oral evidence session was no better for Mark Avery as he and an RSPB representative had absolutely no answer to the key question of what would replace grouse shooting as a land management tool were it to be banned. They could not start to explain how the hole in the upland economy would be filled, nor could they say how alternative upland land uses such as wind farming, more intensive grazing or commercial forestry would benefit wildlife. Then in the debate 30 MPs made speeches or interventions without a single one actually calling for a ban and Rishi Sunak’s speech in praise of grouse shooting has become the model response to calls for a ban.

The fundamental failing of this campaign against grouse shooting has always been its undeniable political motivation. In fact, the prejudice that drives it has often been so blatant that denials were impossible. For instance, the last petition might have attracted slightly less ire from moorland MPs had Mark Avery not described grouse shooting as “the Tory party at play” shortly before the debate.

On which point it is disappointing that the Labour Party continues to engage with this sort of thinly veiled attack on the countryside. Keir Starmer and Shadow Defra Secretary Luke Pollard have talked the talk on engagement with the rural community, but earlier this week the Labour front bench moved amendments to the Environment Bill which would have extended recent restrictions on heather burning in the uplands to a complete ban even where other methods of moorland management are impossible. Not only would this have risked further serious wildfires like that which recently occurred on Marsden Moor in the Peak District, but it was also proposed without any consultation with moorland managers or the organisations that represent them. As long as Labour continues to play politics with issues like grouse shooting it will continue to look totally out of touch with the priorities of rural Britain.

To encourage your MP — whether Labour or from any other party — to oppose a ban on grouse shooting and contribute to the debate on 21st June, please use our online e-lobby tool to tell them how important this issue is to you, and to the countryside.

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