We will see.
The Conservative Party positioning on the hobby of driven grouse shooting is currently pretty much unreservedly in favour of it and apologists for it.
When Defra, under the previous Prime Minister of course, responded to our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting after it passed 10,000 signatures, the then minister at Defra, Rory Stewart, signed off a lazy government response which looks like it was written by the shooting industry. It was an arrogant act for any serving minister – but worse than that, it was a foolish political move.
Now that our e-petition has whizzed past 100,000 signatures, and beyond 117,000 signatures with over three weeks still to go, we expect to hear on 7 September the date on which the future of intensive grouse shooting will be debated in parliament. As others have said, not since the Hunting Act has any ‘countryside sport’ been under such scrutiny and criticism.
Rory Stewart’s government response is now an albatross around the necks of Conservative MPs and a new set of Defra ministers (although I like albatrosses – let’s call it a dead Hen Harrier around those necks, a much better symbol of shame).
This government has failed spectacularly to address the issue of wildlife crime which underpins driven grouse shooting. Why do I use the word ‘underpins’? It’s because every grouse moor benefits from this crime, even those not committing it. Driven grouse shooting depends on having unnaturally very high densities of Red Grouse to shoot for fun – that’s what driven grouse shooting is. A long-term research study in Langholm in the 1990s showed that you cannot have those high densities of Red Grouse for shooting if you stick to the law and protect birds of prey (birds of prey will eat Red Grouse). So someone has to kill birds of prey, illegally, for grouse shooting to be a viable hobby (and money-making enterprise for grouse moors). Now it may not be that all gamekeepers on all grouse moors kill birds of prey, but all grouse moors benefit from the wildlife crimes of others. If your neighbour kills Peregrine Falcons, Goshawk, Red Kites and Hen Harriers (and in Scotland, Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles too), then your grouse moor benefits. You don’t have much incentive to ask your neighbour to stop breaking the law – you benefit from their crime. The more wildlife crime is carried out against protected wildlife, the more the rich can shoot Red Grouse for fun but the more we are robbed of our wildlife. Driven grouse shooting is underpinned by wildlife crime.
Despite the attempts of right-wing commentators such as Charles Moore (see here) and Matt Ridley (see here) to muddy the waters in the right-wing Spectator magazine, the facts are clear that killing of protected wildlife goes hand in hand with driven grouse shooting.
And so the Conservative Party and this government has a big problem. Conservatives like to appear tough on crime – except when it is wildlife crime on grouse moors by natural Conservative party supporters and funders perhaps? We are heading for a debate in parliament where it will be shameful and embarrassing for any Conservative MPs to deny the scale and impact of wildlife crime on protected wildlife and highly embarrassing that the legacy of the Rory Stewart/Liz Truss tenure of Defra is that the government has no cogent plan to tackle wildlife crime, instead it appears to be positioned to praise driven grouse shooting rather than bury it.
Conservative MPs and Defra ministers only have a few weeks to reposition themselves before a Westminster Hall debate at which wildlife crime will be a central theme.