Dear Petitions Team

Government Response to the petition asking for a ban on driven grouse shooting

Thank you for the response to the petition that we signed asking the Government to consider banning driven grouse shooting.

We find the response wholly inadequate. Where is the evidence that driven grouse shooting will contribute, as stated, to the “sustainable management of uplands”? No evidence is cited that burning the uplands in the interests of driven grouse shooting is sustainable economically or environmentally. Rather the response makes it clear that continuing to manage the uplands in this way is costing the British public the earth in terms of:

  • The destruction of peatland resulting in loss of carbon sinks and protection against flooding in the lowlands.
  • Complete destruction of habitats that could support rich levels of biodiversity which in turn could bring wider economic opportunities through more diverse recreational pursuits.
  • The stated income from shooting does not account for the subsidies and tax concessions enjoyed by land owners.

The report Calling the Shots by the charity Animal Aid shows that grouse shooting moors are bizarrely classed as agricultural land and are therefore eligible for the same subsidies granted to farmers:

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The Single Farm Payment Scheme: for “ ‘maintenance’, ‘restoration’ and capital works projects”. (Including burning and herbicide use.) Under this scheme grouse moors in England alone, received £20m during financial year 2012/13.

Environmental Stewardship Schemes: are meant, according to Defra, to “secure widespread environmental benefits” and ecosystem services such as pollination, maintenance of water quality, protection from flooding, protection of biodiversity. Under this scheme shooting estates were paid around £17.3m in 2012/13

In addition the public are subsidising the cost of gun licences to the tune of £17m every year nationally” AND shooting estates in England and Wales are exempt from business rate taxation. (The Scottish Government has recently stopped this concession).

The response states that the uplands are “important for delivering a range of valuable ecosystem services” We couldn’t agree more, so where are the environmental assessments enabling us to compare the ecosystem services that would be realised by managing the land in a manner that would support a diversity of plant and animal life rather than a single species? Where is the cost benefit analysis that shows the benefits of setting fire to the landscape compared with the protection of peatland and catchment areas that would help prevent the release of carbon as well as flooding downstream?

Instead of evidence of the environmental and cost benefits of burning the uplands, the Government offers us only ‘hope’ that a pilot scheme – The Peatland Code – will promote “the restoration of UK peatland through business investment”. What on earth is the public supposed to make of this glimmer of a promise that our future environmental wellbeing will be safe in the hands of ‘business’?

The Government does however suggests that it will be “addressing loss of biodiversity” (is this an admission of guilt?) by “investing over £3 billion in agri-environment schemes” between 2014-2020.  Why? Where is the evidence that previous so-called investment in such schemes has made a difference to the decline of biodiversity in the UK? The State of Nature report produced in 2013 shows that such schemes have not delivered. The Government’s own statistics show that populations of farmland birds have been reduced by more than 50% since 1970 and that the long term trend of decline has increased in the last 10 years. Farmland birds provide a vital ecosystem service; that of natural pest control – without which farmers increasingly resort to pesticides. 70% of land in Britain is farmland. Why have we allowed the majority of land in Britain to be managed in such a destructive manner and continue to subsidise destructive management practices?

Farmlandbirds

Well managed uplands can help trap carbon and soak up excess water during our increasingly frequent heavy rain events. One of the few good examples of this is the Prontbren Project. Why is the Government encouraging the demise of species such as the Hen Harrier, the Twite, the Capercaillie in the uplands? There is enormous potential for increasing our upland bird populations and generally reintroducing rich levels of biodiversity. This would create opportunities for a wider public to experience the joys of our nature environment in these areas rather than restricting them to a minority elite. Subsidies that helped deliver these objectives would be welcomed.