Wilful blindness over grouse shooting

The Wild Justice petition, signed by many readers of this blog and many, many others across the UK, including in grouse shooting areas (see map below) had a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday. Labour MPs were woefully thin on the ground and LibDems totally absent. The SNP spoke and made some good points about how they do things differently in Scotland and the Labour Shadow Minister, Olivia Blake, was good. Here is a link to the transcript – isn’t it amazing how quickly these appear?


But Conservatives lined up to demonstrate that wilful blindness is the name of the game. We will come back in more detail to what individual MPs said over the next days and weeks, if your MP spoke then maybe you’d like to drop them a line and we will publish our thoughts here in case they help you.

So this is just a series of headline points for now, but we’ll be back with more detail soon.

Conservative MPs are wilfully blind on economics – many said how important grouse shooting is to local economies but took no account of the impacts of flooding, water treatment or greenhouse gases on the wider economy. Tom Hunt MP (Ipswich) said that he ‘did not come across any evidence that said that an alternative use would promote better natural capital than the unique environment that we are dealing with here‘ which must mean that he hasn’t read the book of the former Chair of the Natural Capital Committee, a highly respected academic economist, Prof Dieter Helm, where he writes (amongst other things – see here) that ‘Responsibility for the consequences of grouse moor management lies with the owners. They are the ‘polluters’ imposing costs on the rest of us, and they should pay. A more prosperous uplands would start with the licensing of game shoots and then a levy to put right the damage.’.

Conservative MPs are wilfully blind on raptor persecution – many MPs spoke about the skies being darkened by vast flocks of raptors as they visited the moors with friendly gamekeepers. Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) and Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) both hail from the North York Moors which is a bit thin on nesting Hen Harriers, whatever the Moorland Association’s local representative’s gamekeepers say. Indeed the study using Natural England data, by Murgatroyd et al. (published since the last debate in 2016, and providing the clinching science that shows the scale of persecution on driven grouse moors – see here) shows that the North York Moors NP is the most dangerous place for Hen Harriers to go of all English upland, so-called protected, areas. If you are a Hen Harrier, your risk/day of death or sudden disappearance is higher in the North York Mors National Park than anywhere else. Maybe Mr Hollinrake and Mr Goodwill could ask their constituent gamekeepers why that would be the case? Mr Hollinrake could clearly start with the estates he named: Snilesworth, Bransdale and Spaunton. But wilful blindness is the name of the game. Only Olivia Blake mentioned the Murgatroyd et al. study which is a damning indictment of the impact of a hobby, driven grouse shooting, on wildlife crime figures in upland England.

Conservative MPs are wildfilly blind on climate change impacts – Olivia Blake was right to point out (‘I must say that a number of colleagues who have spoken today seem to be a bit behind their own Government on this issue, as the Government have introduced a ban, although it has limitations that I will come on to later‘) that the Conservative MPs who spoke in the debate were out of step with their own government which has introduced restrictions on burning of upland vegetation (weak restrictions – subscribers to the Wild Justice free newsletter will know that we are considering a legal challenge to those feeble restrictions) on burning of upland vegetation. And she was right to mention that the Climate Change Committee regard more sustainable upland management, on driven grouse moors included, as a big issue.

Conservative MPs are wildfully blind to the need for government to act – if you admit that there is a problem, then as a decision-maker you should act. That may be why so many Conservatives, including DEFRA itself, has to paint a picture that everything is rosy, economically rich, environmentally rich, socially rich in the uplands and on grouse moors in particular. If they removed the blinkers then they’d have to act, and that would really irk the grouse moor owners and managers who expect the Conservative Party to speak for them. It was good that the SNP, in the form of Dave Doogan (Angus) pointed out that things are different in Scotland when he said ‘...it includes the ambition for grouse moor management. By contrast, the dead slow and stop approach by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the challenge is unacceptable and does not benefit anybody on either side of this challenging debate‘ and ‘…the Scottish Government will look at implementing a licensing regime for grouse shooting, providing a framework to the sector that will assist it in combating illegal persecution of raptors and related wildlife crimes. Grass [I think that is meant to be grouse] moor estates found to be non-compliant—those that practise the types of behaviours that nobody wants to see—would face the prospect of not having a licence, whereas those that uphold the very best practices would be endorsed and licensed as undertaking a legal and productive activity. Those changes are designed to apply an achievable balance‘. In other words, facing the same issues and problems, and the same economics and social issues, Scotland is acting whereas England is staring out into space saying ‘Problem? I can’t see a problem’. That is wilful blindness.

Wild Justice thanks everyone, over 111,000 of you, who signed this petition and got this debate, much-delayed, into parliament. Things have moved on since the 2016 debate – at least they have in the SNP and Labour Parties, both of whom now favour licensing. Only some of the faces have changed on the Conservative side, there is no more acceptance of a problem now than there was five years ago. But the world is moving on and will leave the wilfully blind behind.

There’s nothing heroic or Nelsonian about ignoring the facts.

KFFYJ6 Nelson holding a telescope to his blind eye, ignoring the order to retreat, Battle of Copenhagen, 1801. Image shot 1880. Exact date unknown. Alamy.

Wild Justice also thanks the Petitions Committee staff with shom we have dealt on this and other petitions for their hard work.