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MPs make overwhelming case for economic, social and environmental value of driven grouse shooting

[DEFRA Minister, Rebecca Pow, outlines benefits brought by DGS]

“It strikes me it would be a great deal of pain, for no clear gain” - that is how Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, concluded yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on the question of whether driven grouse shooting should be banned.

His comments came amid the usual criticism from Labour’s Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East and formerly of the League Against Cruel Sports) that grouse shooting was only benefiting wealthy landowners - a poor and misguided attempt to drum up some kind of class warfare.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hunt maintained that it was in fact those isolated, rural moorland communities that would bear the brunt of any ban on grouse shooting.

“The people paying the greatest cost would not be the richest. They would be the very people who we should be thinking about helping: the gamekeepers, the local pubs, the restaurants, the mechanics, the beaters and all the other locals who benefit from driven grouse shooting,” said Hunt. This is all outlined in research carried out by the University of Northampton into integrated moorland management.

Monday’s debate on the petition ‘Ban Driven Grouse Shooting Wilful blindness is no longer an option’ was an almost direct copy of the question posed in 2016. This fact was pointed out by several of the MPs taking part, with one noting that there was even ‘less support’ than for the motion four years ago, proposed then as now by Wild Justice’s Ruth Tingay, Mark Avery and Chris Packham.

The weakness of the arguments that Wild Justice tried to put forward this time around - not to mention the manipulative spin used to justify the motion - was reflected in the poor performance of the two Labour MPs who spoke in favour of the ban, namely Olivia Blake (MP for Sheffield Hallam) and Kerry McCarthy.

The Countryside Alliance have since issued a damning commentary on the debate, noting, “It is clear that despite pushing for a debate to end grouse shooting, Wild Justice have failed to mobilise a sufficient number of MPs to peddle their spin. MPs today have overwhelmingly made the positive economic, social and environmental case for grouse shooting.”

The fact that so few MPs were willing to speak up for the motion may have had something to do with there being no evidence-based arguments to support Wild Justice’s claims. The economic forecast for life without driven grouse shooting painted by several members was incredibly bleak, with MPs from both England and Scotland citing reviews into the important financial role shooting plays in isolated and fragile communities.

The great array of wildlife, particularly birds of prey, that thrive on the UK's uplands because of the moorland management that exists was also reinforced. MP Kevin Hollinrake cited data from just one North York Moors estate that had recorded 1552 birds of prey in a single year, that equates to 25,000 sightings of birds of prey across the moor.

[Data shows 25,000 sightings of birds of prey across the North York Moors]

MPs from different parties were heavily critical towards the premise of the petition with members condemning its ‘blindness to the positive impacts [of grouse shooting]’. SNP MP Dave Doogan went as far to say “it [the petition] gives the sense that if I do not see things in exactly the same way as others see them, I am somehow wilfully blind. That is not a very appropriate start to such an important and nuanced debate”.

Mr. Doogan went on to point out the numerous local benefits driven grouse shooting brings to his constituency in the Angus Glens. He observed, “I know keenly, very keenly, how important the employment is for the local communities within the Angus Glens. For the schools, for the hotels, for the shops, for the petrol stations and the total absence for these communities for alternative forms of employment which means that the number of total job losses is not as important as the effect of those job losses to those communities.”

[SNP MP Dave Doogan reinforces value of DGS to rural communities]

“Don’t let anyone kid themselves that this is just an issue of one job here, and on job there, it is about the actual living viability of very fragile and very rural communities,” he added.

Having received such a clear and decisive ‘no’ from the debate, Wild Justice are now faced with the inescapable question of where they go from here. A second rejection in five years must surely have killed the idea of a ban on driven grouse shooting for at least a generation and Tingay, Avery and Packham will likely be left scratching their heads over what the point of Wild Justice even is now.

[The Wild Justice threesome are rapidly losing friends and alienating naturalists]

Given their dogmatic approach to campaigns, as well as their utter unwillingness to recognise conservation success from the rural and field sports communities, it is unsurprising that these three amigos are rapidly losing what few friends they had. Only last week, WJ lost another court case in their quixotic crusade to challenge the licensing of badger shooting.

The public is now waking up to this trio’s stubborn, blinkered and prejudicial views and are coming to realise how enormously damaging such activists are to any sort of collaborative progress, which is vital to supporting our environment, our countryside and the rural communities that depend on them.

Indeed, only last month Mark Avery – widely considered an irredeemable bully – launched a vicious personal attack against leading naturalist and award winning writer, Mary Colwell, for daring to write honestly about the need for predation management. This misogynistic and crass attack on Colwell lost Avery any last respect he might have once held as a conservationist.

Perhaps the conservation industry, largely driven by big organisations like the RSPB, will now realise the importance of collaboration and partnership with rural groups, rather than pandering to extremists like Avery and Tingay, who attack the very groups best placed to achieve sustainability.

Optimistic, perhaps, but not impossible.


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