The much anticipated debate on the future of driven grouse shooting will take place on 31 October.

To inform this debate, called for by over 123,000 people who signed Mark Avery’s petition to ban driven grouse shooting, MPs have invited people to submit evidence about the impact of the industry.  Our evidence will be made public later this week and my colleague, Jeff Knott, will be giving oral evidence tomorrow.  

We've taken the opportunity to renew our calls for reform and specifically licensing of grouse shooting and vicarious liability for estates where wildlife crimes.

Our logic is as follows...

...Grouse shooting takes place in the uplands and is reliant on increasingly intensive management to produce red grouse in high numbers, especially for the ‘driven’ form of the sport, which involves a team of ‘beaters’ flushing grouse towards a line of guns waiting in ‘butts’. Intensive grouse moor management has been linked to damage to protected habitats and wildlife, in particular the burning of internationally important peatland habitats and wildlife crime targeted at protected birds of prey.

Moor burn by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

...The plethora of incidents of wildlife crime directed at birds of prey this year provide a stark demonstration of a lack of capacity, or willingness for voluntary reform, which led the RSPB to conclude that a regulatory option is required and the withdrawal of our support for Defra’s Hen Harrier Action Plan.  England supported just 3 successful pairs of hen harriers this year and none on grouse moors, despite habitat for over 300 pairs. Just last week (5 Oct) another peregrine falcon was found shot in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

...Burning is damaging our upland blanket bogs, which are home to protected wildlife and provide vital ecosystem services to millions: storing more carbon than all the UK’s forests combined, providing fresh drinking water, and regulation of water flow during storm events. Burning is not a suitable form of management for restoring blanket bog and we have challenged governments to bring a stop to this unsustainable practice which damages surface vegetation and leads to the release of carbon stored in the peat.

...Evidence of damage is accompanied by a lack of transparency about the role of public money in grouse moor management. Used well, agri-environmental subsidies can help to restore our uplands, as we have demonstrated at Geltsdale and in partnership with United Utilities at Dove Stone. At Dove Stone in the Peak District, restoration of natural bog habitat, via grip blocking and re-vegetation of bare peat, is helping to improve the prospects for upland breeding waders, including dunlin, golden plover and curlew. 

...The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project has shown how a Special Protection Area population of hen harriers can recover in the presence of red grouse recovery to a level which once supported driven shooting, albeit the agreed target density for driven shooting was not met. Despite the lack of gamekeeping or diversionary feeding this year, the SPA has retained its designated breeding hen harrier population.

...Whilst we continue to work with those in the shooting community who share the desire to see upland wildlife and habitats fully restored in order to build and encourage good practice, we are also advocating new regulatory controls in the form of a robust licensing system and vicarious liability, to provide a statutory basis for more proactive approaches to ensuring obligations for protected species and habitats are met, supported by sanctions which provide an effective deterrent and investment in the enforcing authorities.

There may differences of opinion about the future of grouse shooting (status quo, license, ban), yet the case for reform is compelling.  Our view is that self-regulation has failed and it is time to the Government to intervene.

You can watch Jeff here make the case for reform in the evidence session at 2.15pm tomorrow.