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Tim Bonner: What the election means for shooting and wildlife management

I wrote last week about Labour’s continuing obsession with hunting and the Conservatives' commitment not to amend the Hunting Act, but now that all the main parties have published their manifestos, we have been able to analyse all their offerings on rural issues, including game shooting and wildlife management.

There is nothing of concern on these issues in the Conservative manifesto. The Liberal Democrats have pledged to ban the ‘routine’ burning of heather on peatland. It is not at all clear what ‘routine’ means in this context, but burning has long been a vital tool for moorland managers for promoting new heather growth and combating the risk of wildfire. Reform has pledged to “protect country sports” as they “increase investment and help conservation of our environment. They boost rural jobs, communities and local economies”.

Given the current state of the polls, however, it is the Labour manifesto which is most likely to actually be transmitted into government policy. It includes commitments to “ban snare traps” and to implement full cost recovery on firearms licensing.

Snaring is a critical tool in the armoury of many land managers, especially those who are working to conserve some of our most threatened species including waders, black grouse and grey partridge. Committing to nature recovery whilst banning all cable type restraints would, therefore, be totally contradictory. All shooting organisations are agreed that restraints that do not comply with the code of best practice in England should be prohibited, but the modern humane cable restraint is not a ‘snare trap’ in those terms. It is vitally important that professional land managers continue to have recourse to these effective and humane tools.

Firearms licensing is a sensitive issue which is of obvious importance to over 600,000 of us who own a gun. Labour has not committed to fundamental changes to restrict ownership as had been mooted by some in the party, but it has said that it will use the proceeds of ‘full cost recovery’ on firearms licensing to fund other commitments. What this means is that fees for the grant and renewal of licences will rise dramatically to cover the full cost of issuing them. As the Alliance has consistently pointed out, the principle of cost recovery may be legitimate but where a licensing system is totally inefficient, gun owners should not be made to pay for that inefficiency. There are 43 separate firearms licensing authorities in the UK. Many of their processes are archaic and outdated. Ten-year licences still have not been introduced despite the introduction of continual medical assessment so we are still having to renew licences every five years.

Resolving these inefficiencies would dramatically reduce the cost of licences and the Alliance will be arguing strongly that gun owners should be paying for what an efficient service should cost, not what an inefficient service currently does. Labour has also said that it would “end the ineffective badger cull,” but importantly only after it has worked with farmers and scientists to eradicate bTB.

Despite these concerns, the Labour manifesto is a considerable improvement on its 2019 version which pledged to consult on banning grouse shooting and restricting game farming. Much, however, will depend on how a potential Labour government would bring its manifesto commitments into law if it is elected on 4 July.

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