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Welsh Environment Minister Pins Blame for Pheasant Shooting Ban on NRW

In extraordinary scenes in the Welsh Assembly, Labour's Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn has claimed that her letter calling on Natural Resource Wales (NRW) to ban pheasant shooting on public land "did not bind NRW to accept and follow [the Labour Government's] position", shifting the blame for the final decision onto NRW.

In an uncomfortable plenary session, Labour's Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn was subjected to intense questioning over her intervention that led to NRW's decision to ban pheasant shooting on public land. It is widely understood that NRW felt compelled to follow the Minister's instruction to reverse their initial decision, which was to allow pheasant shooting to continue, but the Minister claimed that her comments were not in fact an intervention at all and were not binding on NRW.

This extraordinary claim was made in response to a question from Conservative AM Andrew RT Davies, who told the Minister that her actions were "helping serve redundancy notices" to rural people in areas in which there are few employment opportunities. The Minister's position suggests that NRW are entirely responsible for rejecting their own report, which as of December 2017 had already cost the Welsh taxpayer £48,223.60 and recommended that pheasant shooting on public land should continue.

The Countryside Alliance had briefed Assembly Members ahead of the Plenary Session, and was in fact acknowledged by one AM during the debate as a "significant influence" in Wales.

Andrew RT Davies asked the Minister whether her intervention was purely political, given her actions contradicted the evidence collated in NRW's report, or whether she had access to new evidence that she would make publicly available. The Minister made no reference to scientific evidence in her answer, repeating her earlier comments about unspecified "wider policy and ethical considerations".

The Environment Minister did not indicate if she would accept the invitation extended by Conservative AM Russell George, who asked if she would visit Montgomeryshire with him to meet at least one of the "many businesses that are now laying off staff as a result of the decision that [the Minister] has supported."

NRW's Board had published papers expressing concern that following the Minister's instructions would risk harming NRW's reputation. Their fears were realised as Plaid Cymru AM Llyr Gruffydd closed the session saying: "We know that birds won't be shot over public woodland in Wales, but after this debacle the integrity, credibility and reputation of Natural Resource Wales has been shot down in tatters."

Speaking after the Plenary Session, Countryside Alliance Wales Director said: "It is disappointing that Labour's Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn, sought to constantly undermine the significance of her decision to end pheasant shooting on public land, and to shift the blame onto NRW. We all know NRW changed course because of the Minister's instructions and it is disingenuous to suggest they did not feel bound to do so. And it is frankly offensive to write off those affected by this decision as only '1% of the pheasant shooting in Wales'. Those comments will be of little comfort to rural people losing their jobs. The Welsh Labour Government must reverse this dreadful decision to restore their reputation, and that of NRW, in Wales."

The Countryside Alliance will shortly be launching an eLobby platform to help all our Welsh members and supporters to contact their Assembly Members about NRW's pheasant shooting ban on public land. Keep an eye on our website, our social media feeds and subscribe to our newsletters to stay up to date with all the latest developments.

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