Bob writes: I have a life long passion for the outdoors through rock climbing and fell running. A cancer scare in my thirties made me appreciate many things I simply hadn’t noticed before, from the smallest plants to the gap in the sky from a missing raptor. It’s all worth fighting for and that’s what I try to do.
This is Bob’s second Guest Blog here this week – see here for the first.
During the parliamentary evidence session and debate the shooting lobby painted a picture of well managed, thriving uplands with gamekeepers doing a splendid job as guardians of the land. The reality is very different. It’s useful to me to think about what is valuable in this landscape and therefore the cost to us all in seeing it mismanaged.
I’ll take a closer look at the shooting estates that form the Upper Don catchment in the north east Peak. This season two estates have been involved in non-compliant burning and some photos have appeared on this blog. Let’s be clear what this really means – the dwarf shrub canopy and underlying mosses are incinerated, we have polluted air, oxidation of peat, release of carbon, annihilation of invertebrates, polluted water courses and increased water flows in times of flood. Bear in mind proposed flood defence schemes at £83 million and a new water treatment works at £24 million, much or all of this in the same catchment. It’s completely obvious that better management of the uplands will drastically reduce the amounts that need to be spent downstream.
There are no Hen Harriers or Peregrine nesting in this area. Not that long ago in an era of less intensive management, people visited from far and wide to see one of the country’s highest densities of Goshawk – no more. Adders are found nearby on non-managed moorland estates – they are not found on these shooting moors, no surprise given the burning and predator control.
To facilitate this guardianship, gamekeepers spend a lot of time driving around the estates on ATVs, over habitat that is SSSI, SAC and SPA protected. In 2011 the area of blanket bog below became a vehicle route leading to a new line of shooting butts. The composite photos show the habitat damage in 2014 when the estate was told to stop using this route and the “recovery” two years later. It does look better, but my estimate would be at least five years, maybe getting on for ten to see this blanket bog back in the original state.
Of course, reseeding cotton grass and planting sphagnum plugs would speed things up, but you know who would end up paying for that – you and I. Where this route crosses a stream you can see that rainfall is washing the peat away and this gully will not recover without intervention. Remember there was no damage here at all in 2011 before the creation of the shooting butts. What’s the chance of the landowner dipping into his pocket to pay for the damage he’s caused – pretty slim I would say.
The grough re-profiling and gully blocking shown below is vital to the restoration of these moors and will benefit us all for years to come.
These projects often take place in remote areas which are difficult to access. But if you weigh the benefits shown above against the damage contractors vehicles have caused (shown below), the Public Goods account for this project will be running an overdraft for five years or more until the habitat recovers.
The common theme here (including the two roads featured in the last blog) is a complete lack of consultation. Apparently some in Natural England think that consulting the public, NGOs and even the National Park will result in projects that cost more and are slower to deliver. Did Natural England officers really think that no one would notice the turquoise plastic track at Midhope? The restoration project above also resulted in damage to a bridleway, the Highways Authority weren’t told either and of course they have legal powers to prevent damage to rights of way.
Difficult and lengthy restoration projects can work. The first stage of the Kinder project was to build a fence with the help of vehicles. This was achieved without habitat damage. Of course this project involved public consultation.
Huge sums of public money are spent on our uplands both through regular HLS payments of £56 per hectare and “capital” projects. There needs to be scrutiny and monitoring well beyond Natural England – this is our money can we really say it’s being spent wisely?
Mismanagement of uplands extends well beyond this corner of the Peak District. These photos of Brennand fell in Bowland show the reality of driven grouse shooting. The construction of this grouse butt demonstrates complete contempt for the conservation status of the land. And by the way last year in Bowland, Hen Harrier and Peregrine breeding crashed to zero.
Given that this is the last day of life, if you call that living, of the e-petition in support of grouse shooting (currently standing at 25,320 signatures), it is interesting to look back to the debate in parliament and the MPs who spoke or intervened in that debate.
Here are two lists of MPs, a sadly short list of MPs who expressed concerns about grouse shooting (not necessarily in favour of a ban) and a much longer list of MPs, many of whom were gushingly enthusiastic about grouse shooting. The lists are colour-coded by the political affiliation of the MPs. Those MPs who appear to be representing the views of their constituents are shown in bold. Each MP line has two numbers on it – first the number of signatures in favour of banning driven grouse shooting and second the number of signatures in favour of grouse shooting for their constituency:
MPs expressing concern about driven grouse shooting:
Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) 474, 7
Richard Arkless (SNP, Dumfries and Galloway) 330, 104
Kerry McCarthy (Lab, Bristol East) 299, 5
Angela Smith (Lab, Penistone and Stocksbridge) 266, 69
Rachael Maskell (Lab, York Inner) 263, 18
Holly Lynch (Lab, Halifax) 186, 20
Lisa Cameron (SNP, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) 169, 22
Stephen Timms (Lab, East Ham) 49, 2
MPs apparently in favour of driven grouse shooting:
Rishi Sunak (Con, Richmond) 323, 542
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Con, Cotswolds) 288, 347
Richard Benyon (Con, Newbury) 196, 188
Nigel Adams (Con, Selby and Ainsty) 226, 141
Bill Wiggin (Con, North Herefordshire) 271, 126
Nick Herbert (Con, Arundel and South Downs) 324, 108
Henry Bellingham (Con, North West Norfolk) 244, 106
Antoinette Sandbach (Con, Eddisbury) 173, 96
Therese Coffey (Con, Suffolk Coastal) 370, 84
Andrew Bingham (Con, High Peak) 569, 72
Chris Davies (Con, Brecon and Radnorshire) 244, 70
Julian Sturdy (Con, York Outer) 263, 52
Nicholas Soames (Con, Mid Sussex) 220, 43
Craig Whittaker (Con, Calder Valley) 870, 31
Simon Hart (Con, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) 180, 30
Jonathan Djanogly (Con, Huntingdon) 237, 29
Richard Drax (Con, South Dorset) 248, 28
Steve Double (Con, St Austell and Newquay) 234, 24
Jim Shannon (DUP, Strangford) 72, 22
Gerald Howarth (Con, Aldershot) 138, 20
Danny Kinahan (UUP, South Antrim) 89, 17
Charles Walker (Con, Broxbourne) 85, 8
Just a few comments:
The debate split along party lines – except that the Lib Dems didn’t turn up at all!
All 8 MPs expressing concern over driven grouse shooting were in tune with their constituents (at least as far as their responses to these two petitions are concerned) but only 2 out of 22 MPs speaking in favour of grouse shooting had any reason to believe that there was a majority view of that nature amongst their constituents.
Overall, those 8 MPs expressing concern were speaking on behalf of 2016 of their constituents and against the expressed wishes of only 247 of their constituents.
Those 22 MPs expressing support for driven grouse shooting were speaking on behalf of 2184 of their constituents and against the wishes of 5864 of their constituents. All of these MPs were either Conservative or unionists from Northern Ireland.
Both Rachael Maskell (former Shadow Defra Sec) and Therese Coffey (Defra minister) were constrained on what they could say, as they were doing their jobs at the time.
Simon Hart MP is the Chair of, and a paid consultant for, the Countryside Alliance.
Craig Whittaker’s Calder Valley constituency provided the highest number of signatures supporting a ban of driven grouse shooting, almost certainly because of local views that flooding there had been exacerbated by moorland management on nearby grouse moors, and below average support for grouse shooting. For whom was he speaking in the debate? Perhaps for the grouse moor managers whom he visited to be briefed ahead of the debate rather than his constituents?
Charles Walker ought to invite the mere 8 of his constituents who agree with his view round for a meal at his house.
When the public is asked there is a strong call for driven grouse shooting to be banned and little support for grouse shooting to be protected. A few Conservative MPs and this government are the keenest advocates of driven grouse shooting whatever the views of the electorate as a whole and those of their constituents in particular.
The pro-grouse-shooting petition which closes at midnight tonight (it is being put out of its misery) has gathered some of its ‘greatest support’, not in the countryside but, in central London (see above, and here is the link).
One in 60 of their signatures comes from a single constituency, Chelsea and Fulham, and one in 20 comes from the following four constituencies: Chelsea and Fulham; Kensington; Cities of London and Westminster and Battersea.
For comparison, here is the map of the ‘ban driven grouse shooting’ constituencies (and note the difference in scale, and therefore of overall support) and a link to the map so that you can explore it at your leisure.
See also EPIC FAIL 1 this morning, and look out for EPIC FAIL 3 this evening.
Errr – we cut down the forests a few centuries before you were born lads. What’s natural about this?
Grouse shooting is supposed to be popular – well not according to this perfectly fair comparison of support for grouse shooting compared with its radical, extreme and outrageous alternative of banning driven grouse shooting.
Today is the last day of the e-petition set up as a rival to our own. If it receives 98,000 extra signatures by midnight then it will have caught us.
Let the record show that we won 5-1.