C4PMC: Grouse shooting and the Covid exemption
When it was announced on Monday that grouse shooting, along with hunting, was to be exempt from the latest ‘rule of 6’ Covid laws, the tabloids – and in fact even more ‘sensible’ newspapers – had a field day. ‘No birthday parties but you can shoot grouse’, crowed The Times. The Guardian’s Steve Bell led with a cartoon of Boris out on a shoot (“No more than six members of the Royal Family in one shooting butt”).
The Mirror, meanwhile, headlined on the fact that “Tories made huge sums by auctioning shooting trips before exempting them from Covid-19 rules”, before reinforcing that this was solely a class issue by reporting that “Toffs can go on a Boxing Day hunt – but you can’t have a Christmas Day meal”.
It is no surprise that the tabloids jumped on the story; but it is a credit to the likes of the Countryside Alliance, who have been lobbying government, and the MPs who supported them, that shooting has been made exempt. It seems ridiculous when you look at the facts. Grouse shooting and hunting, the other activity that the tabloids have focused on, both take part entirely out doors. There are very few opportunities in which to do anything but social distance – the moors lend themselves to social distancing perfectly! And, has been shown in the past month since the Glorious Twelfth, it is both perfectly possible and very easy to run shoot days in a Covid-safe manner.
The important factor here, of course, is why it is so important that grouse shooting carries on. As we have said so many times before, grouse shooting is a huge economic driver for so many rural upland areas. In the North of England, the associated spin-offs from grouse shooting are worth in excess of £15 million a year, and it provides both employment and income for the people living there. Some of you may have heard Tom Orde-Powlett, land manager at Bolton Castle estate in North Yorkshire, on yesterday’s Today programme. If not, you can listen to the video below.
“These shoots are businesses, and about 80% of people who will be taking part in a shoot day are actually employed to be there,” he explained. “Whether they’re the beaters, the game keepers, people working their dogs… and then the butchers and gamekeepers involved in the food production. So it’s their livelihood.”
And, when quizzed on the class question, he clarified this point again:
"The key thing here is that 80% of the people who are out on a shoot day are actually earning money doing it. It’s part of our business as an estate, it’s part of their livelihood. These business are absolutely crucial to remote upland communities in some of the least favourable areas, and our economic recovery from Covid. And it’s not just people employed directly but the pubs, the hotels, the B&Bs. They’ve worked seriously hard to be able to welcome people, and they rely on that income.”
This is the crux of the matter; grouse shooting is vital not because the posh Tory government want to support their cronies, but because it supports the rural economy in remote areas where there is little other business to bring in cash. What tourism there is in these areas has been hit hard over the spring and summer, and now is the only chance for people to earn some cash before winter hits. Far from being a case of making an allowance for blood sports, this is a case of the government making an informed decision to allow an entirely Covid-safe activity to take place, at the same time helping the UK's economic recovery.