Parliamentary Debate Driven Grouse Shooting: Only what we expected from the Tory lead committee.

Today’s debate on Mark Avery’s proposal to ban drive grouse shooting in London not surprisingly appeared to be very much one sided based upon Tory MP’s speaking against a ban very much to the fore. Significantly several MP’s who spoke made the point that the RSPB did not support a ban, and this point should be noted by the committee said one MP. It would be wrong to overlook the importance of the RSPB’s failure to support the proposal to ban driven grouse shooting.
In advance of the debate, the RSPB has lobbied MPs not to back the ban but instead support its call for a change in the law. The organisation seems to forget that the law can sometimes be an ass, especially when it comes to protecting hen harriers. Why would a new law to licence moors be any more effective than one protecting the species – which clearly has failed? At best it is naive and at worst it would yet again let the shooting lobby off the hook.

In our opinion a lack of support by the RSPB for a ban on driven grouse shooting may well turn out to have been a major mistake made by the Society; time will tell if the RSPB’s position will prove detrimental to any future plans to return hen harriers back onto keepered moorland in England.

One MP stated to the committee Hen Harriers were better off on managed moorland. Another stated there was no justification for a ban of driven grouse shooting  due to the result of the illegal actions of the few (presumably gamekeepers). Gamekeepers were praised as the unsung heros of our uplands providing the healthy biodiversity of our grouse moors. Not too surprising very few of the Tory MP’s who spoke today mentioned the loss of hen harriers from grouse moors at all. Sadly no one speaking during today’s debate highlighted the important fact there were no nesting hen harriers on grouse moors this year, although two MP’s did say there were only three successful nesting pair of hen harrier in England this year.

We felt that the verbal personal attack made by one Tory MP on both Mark Avery and Chris Packham, clearly instigated to damage their credibility, was outrageous and unwarranted. But what can we expect from the Tory MP’s speaking against the proposed to ban driven grouse shooting. The Labour Shadow Minister spoke strongly in support of Vicarious Liability bringing England into line with Scotland. She also said we needed better enforcement pointing out that financial penalties for wildlife crime were not working, therefore the government must look again at custodial sentences being a viable option.

Therese Coffey made a statement relating to autumn and spring heather burning on grouse moors stating there were no birds nesting at this time of year. This claim is not supported by the facts. Although heather burning can legally be undertaken into early April, by this time however species like hen harrier and peregrine, both ground nesters, are known to have already nested or are in the process of nesting.

The comments below were provided by a professional gamekeeper with over 30 years experience as evidence to the Parliamentary Committee discussing the proposal to ban drive grouse shooting. It makes very interesting reading. Before publishing this information below we received the approval from the author to do so:

I am writing regarding the recent petition to ban Driven Grouse Shooting and its proposed debate in Parliament. My name is Paul Tooley and until recently I had been a professional Gamekeeper with over 30 years experience. Mainly on Pheasant but with a fair bit of involvement with Grouse. Shooting has provided me with a greater part of my living and has been a very enjoyable career. However I have long been of the opinion that driven grouse moors have to change for their own long-term future and that of the wildlife dependent on them.

Although I myself signed the petition it was not from any wish to see Grouse Shooting banned but help ensure sufficient signatures were received to enable the very necessary debate to take place. As I am sure you have been made aware the majority of opponents to Driven Grouse Shooting base their main arguments on the (mis) management of moorland habitats and the control of species deemed detrimental to grouse stocks often involving the killing of protected wildlife. Up until 20-25 years ago little criticism was raised on the subject of moorland management. It was freely admitted by conservationists that grouse shooting had protected much of our upland heather moors from the worse excesses of sheep farming and blanket afforestation. Burning was a vital tool in maintaining a patchwork of heather and other vegetation that benefited many species other than grouse. However since about the mid 1990’s new management techniques and objectives have required that heather be burned more frequently on many moors. This removes much of the longer heather beloved of ground nesting raptors and some other birds. This is not a good thing.

For over 20 years now research has recommended that many drains be blocked to re-wet areas. This benefits insect life and plants such as cotton grass that are of great benefit to grouse and other species. This has been done to great effect on estates such as Raby Castle in Upper Teesdale. Unfortunately some landowners have continued draining some of our best examples of blanket bog in the belief that it will give them more heather and a few extra brace of grouse. Pure greed.

Along with intensified heather management since the mid 90’s grouse moors have become increasingly intolerant of protected birds of prey. The scale of destruction is truly shocking. This is not a good thing.

Any [Hen Harriers] attempting to settle in England mainly from the Scottish population sooner rather than later end up on a driven grouse moor and that is often where it ends. My opinion is that English grouse moors in the absence of persecution could support 150 to 200 breeding pairs. From this point the population could spread to non shooting areas to come near to the often quoted 300+ pairs estimated to be viable. However this would not be a straightforward smooth progression and would take many years. The fact that in recent years there have been no more than 5 or 6 pairs and usually less show the scale of the problem.

Even when  the much criticised DEFRA Hen Harrier plan was in the pipeline the grouse shooting community would not make the effort and show good faith allowing a few more pairs to breed successfully. With a few exceptions shooting tenants just do not want these birds in even the smallest numbers, that is the problem.

Contrary to most respondents to the petition I would have liked to have tried a slightly different Hen Harrier plan but this was a none starter whilst the killing continued. I would also favour a form of licensing focused initially on habitat management which could be relatively easy to monitor. There are other issues involved with driven grouse shooting which need addressing, however I will not go into them now. Maybe this debate will lead to a serious attempt to resolve some of them at a later date.

10 comments to Parliamentary Debate Driven Grouse Shooting: Only what we expected from the Tory lead committee.

  • Stuart Pryor

    I watched the so called debate on DGShooting in Parliament. No wonder we are in a mess if that is the intellectual level of debate by our rulers. The member for the Peak District had not got a clue about the subject and he is supposed to represent his constituents in Parliament! The lady MP from Bristol East was excellent though,well informed and determined to get her point across,well done indeed.

  • terrible disappointment at the lack of response regarding wildlife crimes. There is no justice at all. The police support the law breakers, or they may as well do as they sometimes sit on the fence. They certainly support the fox hunting brigade in clearly breaking laws all the time. Allowed to continue, we shall have no wildlife left, when gamekeepers are given the freedom to set snares to protect their masters pheasant shoots. With Hunts going out sometimes 3 days a week , the devastation to our wildlife is evident. Whether its driven Grouse Shooting or pheasant shooting , or badger baiting or cub hunting and now fox hunting, its all horrific but Tories want votes from the wealthy, the landowners. so utterly fed up.

  • Jo Williamson

    It was devastating watching yesterday’s ‘debate’. The personal attacks on Mark Avery and Chris Packham were shameful. The ignorance exhibited by most of the speakers – and Nicholas Soames in particular – showed their vested self-interest on shooting and grouse moors with out-dated statistics being used to argue the presence of hen harriers on one particular moor. The patronising comments regarding local issues – particularly flooding – were arrogant at best and naive at worst and the climate change deniers didn’t even pretend to be the elephant in the room! They were it!

    The RSPB has sold its soul to the devil …… they let themselves and their members down by declaring the society was not in support of the banning of DGS and this was used against the petition yesterday and at the evidence hearing last week. Whilst no longer a member, I felt betrayed and as such, exposed and weak. To say I felt let down by an institution who supposedly protects wildlife would be a gross understatement.

    Yesterday’s debate wasn’t the end … it was just a shot across the bows ….. the fight is ongoing ….. and we will win. The political dinosaurs will not be there forever – the times are changing and communities are standing up to be counted and this is what these Hooray Henries are frightened of …… they will be overcome. Badger baiting, dog fighting and hare coursing, once described as ‘traditional sports’ have all been banned. So will driven grouse shooting.

    Editor’s Comment. Jo, thank you so much for these words. You are correct we will win in the end, Driven Grouse Shooting is now on notice, it’s just a matter of time. If the killing continues, the end for DGS will come sooner rather than later.

  • adam

    Disappointing. I have already written to the RSPB expressing my disappointment in their compromise. I will not resign my RSPB membership as I recognise the much good they do for most wildlife and habitats. However I feel that they’ve greatly let down the Hen Harrier and I encourage others to email them to let them know of their own disappointment and frustration. As has been said, a licensing scheme would be very hard to police and enforce, largely because the Police aren’t bothered about wildlife crime. A naive flawed plan from the RSPB that has undermined our chances of a ban.

  • We watched the debate recording and were very disappointed, but we all knew this debate was always going to be very one-sided,as we speak they are burning heather up in the north pennines simply to stop Hen-Harriers returning to their winter roost sites,they will not be happy until they have all gone forever,a very sad day indeed but we must never give in and keep fighting from our unheard corner.

    Editor’s Comment. We understand keepers have also been active in the last two weeks also burning heather where the Hen Harrier and Peregrine once had their territories, a total disgrace and on an SPA and SSSi.

  • Jonty

    Surely the solution is quite simple and I’m surprised no one has suggested it before. We know we can’t win in the courts or in parliament against these people, as they are entrenched into every nook and cranny of the establishment that we seek to represent us. This is, effectively, a war.

    As we all know, driven grouse shooting depends on an overabundance of grouse in the shoot area, the supply as it were. All we need to do then, as in every successful war strategy, is cut off the supply. I know this will be controversial but we need to get up on the moors during breeding season and destroy the nests and the eggs of as many grouse as be can. The poor birds would only be getting shot anyway, so by destroying them at the embryo stage, we would be saving them from suffering further down the line. Think of it as collateral damage if you will.

    Let’s take the fight to them. Let’s disrupt their war effort as best we can. We will fight them on the moorlands etc etc… So come on. Who’s with me?

    • John Watson

      Absolutely no, Jonty. I understand your anger, but interfering with active nests of any species is illegal. If that doesn’t persuade you, just think of the bad press & triumphant shooters if you were caught

      Just no.

  • Albert Ross

    Sorry Jonty. I for one cannot do that. Quite apart from the illegality of the action I simply could not bring myself to destroy nests and eggs. To me that is coming down to the level of the opposition from the high ground of doing the right thing. You risk being looked upon as being no better and thus the argument has gone.
    However, as I have advocated on these pages several times already, we should take still the fight to the pockets and pleasures of the opposition.
    Forget protest days.
    Get out on the moors and disrupt the shooting on the inglorious twelfth. Make your point that way in the only language they understand. “Leave our raptors alone and risk losing a few grouse OR continue the illegal persecution and lose your days ‘fun with a gun’ and all the money you have paid out to do it.”
    Properly planned and executed there would be no risk and the point would have been forcefully made. Now, who is for a nice legal hike on our hills?
    Bowland looks a nice venue and I have a window in my diary for Saturday 12th August.

    Editor’s Comment. Totally agree, there is no way we could support damaging grouse eggs or their nests, This kind of action apart from possibly being illegal would bring us down to their level. We also agree that protest days have their limits, but never the less they have brought people together and highlighted the issues of illegal raptor persecution. The 2017 may well be the last hen harrier day, we MUST look to take our fight onto the moors.

  • Jonty

    A fair and reasoned response Albert and John. You are, of course, both right in what you say but I am so bloody angry about this. I don’t see how we can ever win by fair and legal means, such is the entrenchment in the establishment. I don’t think protest days will achieve anything unless there’s proper disruption of the shoots, and for that, you will need a massive turn out.

  • Albert Ross

    Actually you don’t need that many protesters to spoil somebody’s day. A lone walker with his dog can soon empty a pheasant covert or turnip field. (but best not be too open on this forum as that could be illegal if shown to be deliberate.)
    But if, as an example, there was a pocket of birds ahead of beaters and something happened to flush them in the wrong direction away from the guns first, the guns would be frustrated.
    Should this be repeated I think the message might get through that better a few birds lost to protected raptors than an expensive day out with little to show for it.
    Just thinking aloud of course.