Dear Mr Gove
You have a mess on your hands and despite the fact that you inherited much of it, you have let Natural England dig you into an even deeper hole. But in any case, it’s now your mess because you are sitting at the desk at which the buck stops.
Why would you let the impression of tolerance of wildlife crime and unsustainable management of large areas of upland England damage your personal reputation, the government’s environmental reputation (which you are trying to rescue) and be a weakness for Labour to exploit at the next general election (just like fox hunting hurt you at the last one?)?
Why? No, I can’t think of a reason either.
The intensive management of land for grouse shooting leads to increased flood risk, increased water treatment costs, increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased damage to protected wildlife, loss of wildlife and is underpinned by criminality. Why would a Conservative support the hobby of shooting birds for fun when it has such downsides for society as a whole.
So, here’s a list of things you need to sort out on grouse shooting:
- the consents for burning heather – there is widespread non-compliance with the code of practice, and in some cases with the law. It’s Natural England’s job to enforce these regulations – they are an utter disgrace.
- consents for burning on blanket bogs – the Moorland Management Plan for Walshaw Moor is a disgrace. Your nature agency, Natural England, is allowing burning on blanket bogs and industrialisation of the designated moorland. Natural England is making your policy response non-compliant with EU law – are you happy with that and prepared to take the consequences?
- why is Defra holding out against the removal of lead ammunition from use in the UK. It’s coming anyway – why not move to phase out a poison shot into food?
- why are there not statutory lead levels set for game meat as there are for other meats?
- driven grouse shooting is underpinned by widespread, systematic and intense wildlife crime against birds of prey – why has your department never acknowledged the scale of the issue? And why has Defra refused to move against the wildlife criminals?
- why have you allowed NE to license the extremely unpopular and pointless policy of brood management for Hen Harriers? This crazy plan is opposed by the RSPB as follows, ‘The idea that brood management is about helping hen harriers is nonsense. It is about facilitating unsustainable intensive land management which is destroying our uplands. To be clear, the RSPB is implacably opposed to this and as a landowner ourselves, we will never allow it on our land.’.
- why do you allow NE to keep secret the results of its 16-year, taxpayer-funded study of Hen Harriers?
- why does Defra continue with a discredited and ineffective Hen Harrier plan that doesn’t help Hen Harriers but does suit grouse shooters down to the ground?
- laws exist about the medication that can be used for grouse – but these are not enforced or even monitored. You are giving grouse shooting an easy ride by not checking compliance with these food safety regualtions.
Law enforcement on grouse moors:
- did NE license the killing of protected wildlife on the Bowland SPA which was set up partly to protect that wildlife? And why, after more than seven months has NE not come clean on events on this grouse moor?
Whenever Defra and NE have had the chance to address the illegal and unsustainable practices of intensive grouse shooting your department and its agency have ducked them, failed to take them or done something that makes things worse rather than better. Government and the statutory sector is not just being wilfully blind to the issues of grouse shooting but appears to be so friendly with grouse shooting interests that you are in their pockets.
You have to concede, Mr Gove, that a consistent pattern of secrecy, incompetence and a failure to meet government’s statutory duties to conserve protected species and habitats is unlikely to inspire confidence in the rest of Defra’s work. Your department’s position on grouse shooting is harming the new Defra brand which you seek to create. As I wrote earlier, some of this happened before your arrival in Smith Square but all of it is piled up on your desk now.
Your move, Mr Gove.