Our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passed the 10,000 signature mark on 31 July and received a response after nearly five weeks of brow-wrinkling thought on behalf of Defra on 1 September (maybe they thought I’d be touched by it appearing on the centenary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon).
The sections in bold are the Defra reply and are followed by my comments.
As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response:
It has been estimated that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide significant benefits for conservation. Shooting makes an important contribution to the rural economy. An interesting place to start. It has been estimated by people who have an interest in making that figure as large as possible, hasn’t it? Does Defra accept these figures? How much of that figure, which is a UK figure, is spent in England (the area under consideration for this e-petition)? How much of that sum is agri-environment funding that comes from the taxpayer? How much is from NE (or other statutory agencies) and therefore comes from the taxpayer? And, rather critically to this particular e-petition, how much of that £250m is spent on grouse moors? Who does write these replies? Does a Minister sign them off?
By the way, prostitution and drug-dealing add £10bn (that’s 10,000,000,000 not a paltry £250m (250,000,000)) to the UK economy each year http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/05/30/drugs-prostitution-uk-economy_n_5415554.html . Should we encourage more of those in the uplands? Quite what is the point you are trying to make here?
When carried out in accordance with the law, shooting for sport is a legitimate activity, and our position is that people should be free to undertake lawful activities should they wish to do so. This is an e-petition to make driven grouse shooting illegal – all you have just told me is that it is currently legal. I knew that. That’s why this e-petition exists.
Driven grouse shooting depends on people breaking the law. The large ‘bags’ of Red Grouse attained in the north of England would not be possible if the law were obeyed. That is the lesson of Langholm. If I’m right, then driven grouse shooting is not a legitimate activity at all – that’s one reason we should ban it.
Landowners are free to manage wildlife on their land, provided it is carried out appropriately and legally, in accordance with any the relevant wildlife legislation. And we know that criminal activity is the reason that the English Hen Harrier population is at c1% of its natural potential. So grouse shooting interests, and nobody else, are responsible for the dire conservation status of a fully-protected (and wonderful) bird. So enough landowners aren’t acting legally and that’s why we should either invest massively in policing (not my preferred option and not in your remit) or we should ban this pointless and damaging activity.
It is encouraging to learn that there are four hen harrier nests this year which have chicks, given that in 2013 there were no known hen harrier fledglings in England. Some of these fledglings will be tracked with satellite tags we have funded. You don’t comment on the fact, mentioned in the e-petition and based on science, that there should be 300+ pairs of Hen Harriers in England if it weren’t for illegal killing of this protected bird. You do remember, don’t you, that you are the department with responsibility for wildlife? How many pairs of Hen Harrier would Defra like to see in England and what is your plan to get them?
The English Hen Harrier population has fallen under this government. You don’t have a plan, you don’t have an answer and it appears, you don’t have a clue. It is also clear that you really don’t care.
The Uplands Stakeholder Forum Hen Harrier Sub-group was set up in 2012 with senior representatives from organisations best placed to take action to address the decline in Hen Harriers. These include Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the National Parks Authority and the RSPB. Defra welcomes the involvement of all parties. The police might be the organisation best placed to enforce a pretty simple law – don’t kill Hen Harriers – but I note they aren’t in the room. I agree that policing of this issue would be very difficult and expensive – that’s why a ban on the activity responsible for the lack of Hen Harriers in England is such a cost-effective and red tape-free solution.
The Sub-group has developed a draft Joint Action Plan containing a suite of complementary actions intended to contribute to the recovery of the hen harrier population in England. We are working with Sub-group members to finalise the Plan. My prediction is that you will never publish this plan because there is no agreement amongst the participants and unless, you, Defra, knock some sense into the shooting community, to give considerable ground, there never will be. There is no joint plan – at the moment you have a ‘non-joint’ ‘non-plan’ and you do not appear to have any ideas for moving things forward.
By the way, the organisations in your group have no mandate to speak on behalf of UK nature conservationists and naturalists. Any plan you seek to implement that is inconsistent with EU Directives or domestic legislation will be open to legal challenge.
As you will know, there is another e-petition asking you to publish the ‘non-joint’ ‘non-plan’ and that e-petition is being supported by just one side of this debate – the shooters. What could make it more obvious that there is no agreement than that one side wants a draft plan published and the other side does not? When, fairly soon, that e-petition reaches 10,000 signatures you will, I guess, spend around five weeks crafting another response (unless the Countryside Alliance has already drafted one for you – have they?).
What are you going to do then? I’d love to know. I’d love to know so much that I have signed the other e-petition to put you in that position as quickly as possible.
You, Defra, need to produce your own plan to save the English breeding population of Hen Harriers as part of your response to the ills (they are many) of grouse moor management. I’d love to see the Defra plan – for the conservation of protected wildlife is your responsibility – on the way forward with Hen Harriers. Publish your plan and then we can take it into account when we vote in May. Let’s see the coalition government’s plan for dealing with criminal killing of protected wildlife as soon as possible – then the people will decide.
Illegal killing of birds of prey
The killing of birds of prey is illegal, all wild birds being protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Anyone who kills or injures a wild bird is committing an offence and could face jail if convicted. When will you publish the data, on satellite-tagged Hen Harriers collected over the last 12 years by NE? Will that show that Hen Harriers don’t live as long as they should? Will it show, as suggested by an interim report on the work under the previous government, that Hen Harriers are being killed at roosts and on grouse moors? These data should be published now and no longer kept secret. I already have a PhD – I promise I won’t dash off another one with the data.
Bird of prey persecution is one of the six UK wildlife crime priorities. The England and Wales Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group leads on action to address these crimes through prevention, intelligence and enforcement activity. Hen Harrier numbers have fallen during the lifetime of ‘the greenest government ever’ (that’s supposed to be you, in case you have forgotten). This species is close to extinction in England and is at c1% of its potential breeding population given the availability of suitable habitat. c99% of English Hen Harriers are missing. You seem very complacent under these circumstances.
The National Wildlife Crime Unit gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey, providing assistance to police forces when required. Earlier this year the Government confirmed that the Home Office and Defra would together provide funding until 2016, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to tackling wildlife crime. We’ll be the judge of whether we feel you are committed to tackling wildlife crime – I have to say I think you are incredibly complacent and have not demonstrated any real commitment to tackling these issues. You are pretty much hopeless. You should be enforcing the law and bringing criminals to court – you haven’t done that. You have already ruled out vicarious liability and licensing as options in response to previous e-petitions on this subject.
Alongside this, there have been successful conservation measures which have led to increases in buzzard, peregrine and red kite populations over the last two decades.
In February 2013 we, along with the devolved administrations, made a statement of intent to protect and enhance the natural capital provided by peatlands in the UK. In September 2013 the Pilot Peatland Code was launched with the aim of promoting the restoration of UK peatland through business investment. It is intended that the Code will assure restoration delivers tangible benefits for climate change alongside other benefits such as restoring habitats for protected species and improving water quality. I’m quite interested in this bit of your reply. It must have been written by a different civil servant from the rest of your response as it actually addresses the issue a little bit. I will take this as tacit recognition that the upland management associated with driven grouse shooting is a considerably wider problem than simply wildlife crime.
But here you are recognising that there are broader issues in play over whether the management of land for driven grouse shooting is good or bad. It’s not just about Hen Harriers – this is a far broader issue. Thank you for recognising that. If you come up with a Hen Harrier plan (which I cannot see you doing) it won’t be the same as a Peatland, Water Quality or Flood Risk Management Plan. Banning grouse shooting will address all these issues in one.
How are you getting on with the complaint to the EU by the RSPB over the overburning of blanket bogs by grouse moor managers? What steps are you taking to ensure that your delivery body, NE, tackles this problem with all the powers it has? Why did NE cave in in the Walshaw Moor case?
The last decade has seen increasing numbers of conservation initiatives (such as Nature Improvement Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest) many of which are focussed on peatland restoration in the UK. We are working with a wide range of partners on peatland restoration, including land owners and environmental NGOs. You are the government – remember? You have lots of money and lots of power which you can withhold or wield to deliver your policies. You don’t seem to be very energised on this subject though.
Rural Development Programme
We are committed to helping create a more sustainable future for the English uplands, which are endowed with natural assets that are important for delivering a range of valuable “ecosystem services”, including food and fibre, water regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities for health and wellbeing. Let’s see your plan for that then. Where is it? What have you done in the last four and a bit years to move this forward? NE used to have quite a good one but then it was pulled.
We will be investing over £3 billion in agri-environment schemes (Environmental Stewardship and its successor) in the next Rural Development Programme 2015-2020. That’s my money (not all of it is mine admittedly) you are talking about there. I object to it being spent in the uplands rewarding criminals who are depleting my wildlife.
Addressing loss of biodiversity will be a priority for the new Programme. It was for the last Programme. Do you think that’s worked well?
In addition funding will look to maximise opportunities to deliver biodiversity, water quality and flooding benefits together. Defra is working with a wide range of interests to finalise scheme details in good time for 2015. I look forward to seeing them.
This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.
This is as appalling a response to public concern as you could possibly imagine. This e-petition is the 20th most successful open e-petition across all government departments at this moment. It has gathered considerable public support in a very short period of time and it addresses legitimate public concerns. It is also the third e-petition on roughly this subject in the last few years to have received an inadequate government response. Defra clearly don’t have a clue on this subject and appear not to care.
The response from government is complacent, misses the point and offers no solution except carrying on with the approach that has failed the public, failed the Hen Harrier, and quite simply failed for decades. The status quo only works well for those who profit from driven grouse shooting.
Banning driven grouse shooting is still the best way forward given the intransigence of the grouse shooting industry.
You never know, we might get to 100,000 signatures by the end of March although it looks rather unlikely and then there would probably be a debate in Parliament on this subject once a new government is in place. This issue will not go away – we won’t let it go away – and the more signatures there are on this e-petition the more a new government will have to address the issue.
Please sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and the find some mates to sign it too.