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New Prime Minister Rishi Sunak supports moorland communities and workers

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Rishi Sunak has been making his name in not just National but now global circles, as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But long before he was a Minister, his name was well known in Yorkshire circles as the MP for Richmond – the seat formerly held by William Hague.

Rishi has also been a staunch supporter of moorland communities. In 2016, Sunak spoke in a parliamentary debate in response to a petition to ban driven grouse shooting. Of any proposed ban, he explained:

"The real victims of a ban are not caricatures; they are ordinary working people in constituencies such as mine in North Yorkshire – the farmer’s wife who goes beating at the weekend so that her family can make ends meet through difficult times; the young man able to earn a living in the community he loves as an apprentice to a gamekeeper; the local publican welcoming shooting parties with cold ales and hot pies. Those who support a ban on grouse shooting must be prepared to look those people in the eye and explain to them why their livelihoods are worth sacrificing."

Sunak had an interest in economics long before he became Chancellor, studying PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) at Oxford, and then working for investment banks and hedge funds. It's fair to say that he "gets" the economy, and on this topic he had lots to say about shooting.

"The truth is that the benefits created by grouse shooting go far beyond the direct employment it creates", he said. "The ripples of employment that grouse shooting creates reach every corner of our country."

Of course, there is also the investment that moor owners put into conservation.

"Heather moorland is rarer than rainforest and 75 per cent of it is found here in Britain", explained Sunak. "It is a national treasure and part of our cultural heritage. Without the £1m of private income spent by moor owners on land management every single week, that proud heritage would come to an end."

To sum up, he said: "Banning grouse shooting would not only leave many families poorer, but leave our landscape and wildlife poorer too. It would be a policy with no winners. Instead, only by working together, can we ensure a bright future for the rural Britain that we all care so deeply about."

In 2018, Rishi wrote a blog for his local paper, the Darlington & Stockton Times, on "the lessons of this summer's moor fires". After a visit to the moors above Castle Bolton, he wrote about how "the chances of environmental devastation on the scale of Saddleworth is much less because the landscape here is actively managed for shooting which is, of course, an important element of our rural economy sustaining many jobs and businesses in the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors."

"Keepers from the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group showed me how their management practices provide a favourable habitat for a wide range of wildlife – particularly ground-nesting birds - and protection against wildfires.

"Active moorland management includes control of predators like crows and foxes, creating firebreaks and controlled heather burning in winter, to encourage the growth of the young heather shoots and to reduce the amount of old, highly flammable, vegetation such as which fuelled the Saddleworth Moor blaze. The technique the keepers use is called cool burning. The flames pass quickly over the surface, burning the over-ground vegetation but not affecting the humus or litter layer on the surface of the precious water-retaining, carbon-storing peat...

"I loved my time on the moor. The keepers’ knowledge of the landscape under their care and the wildlife it sustains – often passed down from father to son – is both humbling and inspiring. They are a special part of our community, and it is a privilege for me to represent them." "Their passion for the moors and the wildlife was such that I could have happily spent the whole day with them. Time spent with keepers and hill farmers is definitely one of the best parts of my job." "As I write this in my office in steamy Westminster, with the temperature heading towards 30 degrees again, the memory of breezy Bolton Moor, surrounded by so much wildlife, including kestrels, buzzards, golden plover, lapwings and curlew, is very vivid. I know where I’d rather be."


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