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Former League Against Cruel Sports Director despairs at ‘wildlife groups’ ignorance

Jim Barrington, a former Executive Director of the League Against Cruel Sports and now Animal Welfare Consultant at the Countryside Alliance, wrote a blog this week for the GWCT, which we encourage both our supporters and opponents to read.

Titled "Wildlife is suffering – from those unwilling to compromise, Jim despairs at the ignorance and unwillingness to consider facts by organisations like Wild Justice and anti-fieldsports groups. When asked what methods of “wildlife management” they support, the response, says Jim, is “either a deafening silence or an idealistic ‘leave it all to nature’.”

One of the cases he references is that of Ilkley Moor, in West Yorkshire, where grouse shooting was banned in 2018. The moor is publicly owned, and managed by Bradford Metropolitan District Council, and until recently the rights to shoot on the moor were leased to a local syndicate, who carried out all the moorland management and fire risk maintenance. However after a sustained campaign by animal rights activists including the Moorland Monitors – led by Luke Steele – and the League Against Cruel Sports, the Labour-led Bradford Council voted to end grouse shooting on the moor.

That was two years ago; as of December 2017, there has been no grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor. The worry then, for people who live and work in the moorlands, was whether the moor would be managed in a way they would describe as ‘correctly’; looking after the heather and vegetation for its own good, and for that of the wildlife that live there; creating habitats that encourage ground-nesting birds, and encouraging biodiversity on the land. Edward Bromet, chairman of the Bingley Moor Partnership who leased the shooting rights, said that the group would have invested £800,000 in the moor over the next decade, had the lease been renewed. Luke Steele, on the other hand, was quoted as saying that ‘our efforts will now turn to reversing the terrible legacy of grouse shooting on the moor in pursuit of a first-class asset for the region, which promotes wildlife diversity, education, leisure and the local community.’

But the question stood: who would now be funding the upkeep of the moor? The answer would have to be: Bradford Council (or, if you’d rather, Bradford taxpayers).

Jim described Ilkley Moor then as “an important breeding ground for threatened ground-nesting birds such as skylarks, curlews, plovers and lapwings (the Council had terminated the sporting lease once before but decided to reinstate it to avoid paying the bills to repair the exposed peat after kids kept setting fire to the heather).”

Every warning that was given to Bradford Council at the time on risks associated with this decision to ban grouse shooting are now materialising. Just two weeks ago, a tractor was filmed mowing the heather on Baildon Moor, which neighbours Ilkley. It being prime breeding season, this is of course illegal as well as utterly incompetent. But the council claimed at the time to have no knowledge of who might be responsible for this act. That is strange in itself; after all, with responsibility for managing the moor, you would have thought that Bradford Council would know who had been given authorisation to cut, or mow, or burn the vegetation at any given time. So the council claimed they hadn’t authorised the mowing, and reported it to Natural England and the police. Then reports emerged that a local, fed up of the fact that ‘no-one looks after the moor’, had taken matters into their own hands.

An investigation is in progress. However, others report that the heather is now "long and rank" with "thick heavy bracken beds". In other words, another sterile moor in the making. No good for ground-nesting birds, but perfect conditions for wildfires, risking the lives and businesses of all those living nearby.

The story of Ilkley Moor is a sad one; what’s even sadder is it’s just one of many. The reality here is that many animal rights and anti-shooting activists view the world through rose-tinted glasses. There is no reality; no thought about what might happen when their ideals come to life. They celebrate the banning of shooting grouse on a moor. But they fail to understand that without management, or indeed the knowledge or funds to manage land correctly, animals, landscapes and the nation’s biodiversity will suffer irreversible damage and lives will continue to be put at risk.


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