Environmental question time

Yesterday evening I attended an environmental question time organised by the Sibthorp Trust, British Ecological Society and CIEEM, and chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby.

The panellists were Natalie Bennett (Green Party), William Cash (UKIP), Barry Gardiner MP (Labour), Lord (Rupert) de Mauley (Conservative Defra minister), Baroness Kate Parminter (Liberal Democrats, Environment Spokesperson) and Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP (SNP).

It was a very good evening and I was glad I travelled into London for it.  It’s worth a few blogs over the next few days but someone (guess who?) asked the panel whether they would ban driven grouse shooting.

These were their answers, in no particular order, and in my words, summarising their words:

William Cash – no. The government should not interfere to attempt to change ‘rural values’. Instead, people should consider the number of eagles killed by windfarms.

Rupert de Mauley – no. Shooting has important economic benefits and can benefit other biodiversity. But we should stamp out illegal practices.

Eilidh Whiteford – no. Although shooting estates shouldn’t be exempt from business rates – they should pay their way.

Kate Parminter – no. But there is too much illegal persecution.

Barry Gardiner – no, not at the moment but we intend to review many aspects of field sports including snares etc.  The persecution of birds of prey should be ended. I was present at Hen Harrier Day in the Peak District last year. We need to see the report on lead ammunition that should be out soon, as that will have implications for grouse shooting too.

Natalie Bennett – yes.  Grouse shooting is an environmentally destructive industry.

Jonathan Dimbleby was then kind enough to ask me what I thought and I said something very like this:

Yes we should. The management of grouse moors increases water bills (through water pollution), increases home insurance costs (through increasing flood risk), increases greenhouse gas emissions (through soil erosion), increases damage to wildlife sites (through over-burning) and leads to more wildlife crime which involves the deaths of some very pretty birds of prey.  It is an activity of tiny economic value to the economy and what value there is, is for the benefit of the few at a cost to the many. So, yes, we should ban it.’

And if you agree, you should send that message to politicians by signing this e-petition, as have over 21,000 others. And, on this showing, you should regard it as one reason to vote Green on 7 May.

More on this environmental question time a little later.


And, by the way, this looks like an interesting and similar event  – which clashes with the BAWC conference so I won’t be there.

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20 Replies to “Environmental question time”

  1. Thanks Mark. A thought: if I were to take your main points about grouse moors

    ....... increases water bills ( through water pollution)
    ........increases home insurance costs (through increased flood risk)
    .......increases GHG emissions (through soil carbon loss)
    .....increases damage to wildlife sites (through various actions)

    what else could be inserted in the blanks? Sheep farming in the uplands certainly, and Maize production in the lowlands. The only difference is that Grouse shooting also leads to persecution of Raptors (which is of course abhorrent).

    Maize production (especially for AD feedstock) is entirely a subsidy driven industry paid directly from tax payers pockets. Sheep farming in the uplands is the same.

    If grouse moors were banned, and converted to (subsidised) sheep pastures, overall, would the environment benefit?

    1. Miles - sheep production does at least have some point to it other than target practice at living creatures. If we are looking for balance then grouse shooting is pretty unbalanced. And it's the blanket bogs that suffer - all those lovely Sphagnums.

      Almost all English grouse moors are in National Psrks (shocking enough!), SPAs, SACs and/or SSSIs - they won't be planted with conifers, overrun by sheep or filled up with wind turbines once we kick grouse shooting into touch.

      Actually the big difference is that we could do so very much better in the upalnds - and we should. See NT vision for the High Peak for example.

    2. Maize put into AD units is nothing short of moronic - the sooner the practice ceases the better, but I'm not sure I understand your point about it being 'subsidy driven'. Are your referring to the externalised costs of the crop when it's grown badly on unsuitable land? If so then I would probably agree, but then one would probably have to place potatoes and several other crops in the same envelope.

      1. AD plant is constructed to recover energy from dairy herd slurry then farmer discovers that left-over maize silage in summer bumps up gas yield and therefore elecatricity output and therefore more FITs moolah so grows more silage than herd needs and moolah increases so fast he realises that he doesn't need the herd any more and would rather not get up at 04.00 every day just to make a loss and get arthritis in his hips from the cold and the kicks so he sells the herd and equipment and grows only maize and increasingly more oilseed rape because oil really stokes it up and the moolah comes so fast he has to build another AD tank twice as big as the first one to keep the taxman in his box but the farm can't produce enough vegetable energy to service the loan so he starts to take in food processing and restaurant waste oil with all the extra traffic that entails and makes him really really popular in his village and before he knows it Hey Presto he is no longer a farmer and his land can't grow anything anyway because it now has phosphorus indices off the scale and he maybe regrets all that poultry waste he took in while the cows used to be at grass but no matter look its only business even if the dairy production has been displaced to that Abroad because they foreigners are welcome to all the pollution it causes anyway

        1. Spot-on Filbert.

          I've just driven past a sloping field of maize stubble being used to out-wintering a sizeable number of dairy heifers. I may have to revise my definition of moronic...

      2. All maize in England is subsidy-driven Ernest, in the sense that farmers receive a subsidy which they use to support crop production, including maize. AD maize has an extra subsidy on top of the Basic payment (and ELS up until last year) because the government pays the AD plant owners through the Feed in Tariff subsidy. The AD plant owners are desperate for hi energy density feedstock so they offer very lucrative contracts to farmers to produce maize. This is now having all sorts of knock on effects, from increased flooding in the Somerset Levels, to tenants being kicked off land so it can grow AD maize.

        1. 'All maize in England is subsidy-driven'

          That's not correct - in that sense all farming practices undertaken by businesses in receipt of SFP/BPS are subsidy driven. On some farms certain practices are supported to an extent by subsidies but certainly not driven and not all dairy farms are reliant on subsidy to stay in business - far from it.

          Most if not all livestock farms currently growing forage maize for would do so regardless of whether they were in receiving pillar 1 or not - it's included within the ration purely because of its high starch content.

          I fully agree with your points re AD destined maize.

  2. If we imagine how that question might have been answered 5 years a go its fair to say there has been considerable progress as there probably wouldn't of been a green voice.

    The only one I'm dissapointed in was the SNP I thought they might just have something more useful to say.

  3. thanks Mark.

    As you know, I am no defender of the grouse shooting industry, though i have no problem with people shooting animals per se - though I would prefer them to do so for eating rather than purely for fun (and I have no influence over which one they do). I find modern intensive pheasant shoots every bit as problematical as you find upland grouse shooting.

    And I enjoy tucking into a piece of wild venison as much as anyone else.

    Leaving aside whether upland sheep production has any more point to it than grouse shooting (man cannot live by lamb alone) upland sheep grazing has, I would contend (without having the evidence to hand), done far more damage to the environment - whether we are talking about intrinsic or utilitarian values - than grouse shooting.

    Decades of those little pointy feet and endlessly munching mouths have done for peat bogs, upland heath, upland forests, you name it. There's 1.5M ha of upland acid grassland in Britain, all created by sheep grazing. Converting even a fraction of this to other upland habitats would provide significant environmental benefits.

    You may well be right that the grouse moors are already under some form of protection - though whether that would extend to excluding sheep or not (or indeed deer) would probably be determined by the particular conditions in each site/park. And you are, I am sure, right that removing grouse shooting could lead to an improvement in the conditions of that land (though I caution that the law of unintended consequences will apply).

    I just think if you are going to stray beyond the very strong argument that it is wrong to shoot birds of prey and that this immoral act is being driven by the grouse shooting industry, it's worth considering whether those wider, secondary arguments stand up to scrutiny, and whether other ways of achieving the same objective are worth equivalent (or indeed more) effort.

    1. "little pointy feet"

      ... often get sent on holiday to lowland grass in the winter where the resultant near-surface soil compaction causes surface run-off and soil erosion and affects river re-charge and ... and ...

      1. ok it's not just the uplands.

        Imagine if the grouse (being equivalent in some ways to the sheep - just another cash crop) were sent on holiday to the lowlands - would we start to lose all our Buzzards and Red Kites?

        1. We're already losing our Red Kites in North East England. They get as far as the Grouse Moors and that's the last we see of them unless they quickly turn around. 94 Kites were released and we still don't have that many now with years of breeding having taken place.

          We have laws against persecution yet do nothing proactive to prevent wildlife crime and it's disgusting.

    2. Isn't the point that rather than banning specific activities (and not others) we should be maintaining freedom of action but restricting effects. Hence both shooting and sheep farming activities should be allowed or disallowed depending on their effects. For example lets restrict the allowable impact of any human activity in the uplands on the water table whether it be grouse shooting, wind farms or livestock farms.

    3. Miles - and those secondary consequences have been examined at length in this blog since 28 May when my e-petition was launched. And will be examined in even more length in Inglorious published in late July this year.

  4. I was never in favour of banning grouse shooting but the arrogance of what seems to have become an accepted grouse moor management technique by both practice and silence of the killing of birds of prey, combined with recent studies of the negative environmental impact of grouse moor management has changed my mind. I think the Hen Harrier brood management nonsense was the final straw.


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