Here is an annotated (in bold and italics) copy of the government response to the phenomenally popular petition by Chris Packham to ban driven grouse shooting (see here). Basically, Defra maintains its wilful blindness of the issues and their responsibility to solve them.
Grouse shooting is a legitimate activity [only in the sense of being currently lawful and did you not notice that the aim of this e-petition is to make it unlawful? But certainly not in the alternative meaning of the word, (reasonable and acceptable) that’s why this petition exists] providing benefits for wildlife [all wildlife? or some wildlife? or hardly any wildlife?] and habitat conservation [not really true is it? Otherwise you wouldn’t be chasing land owners to stop them burning protected habitats, would you? And in any case, as you know, grouse moors are as artificial as wheat fields] and investment in remote areas [but costs to all of us through carbon loss, increased flood risk, damaged habitats, reduced aquatic biodiversity and massive losses of native wildlife. In any case, alternative investment models are available with much lower external costs]. Defra is working on the sustainable management of English uplands [?????].
This is a devolved matter. Defra is working with key interested parties to ensure the sustainable management of the uplands, balancing environmental and economic benefits, which includes the role of sustainable grouse shooting. [What is your definition of sustainable grouse shooting? You’ve never said… Does it include Hen Harriers being absent from much of the uplands because of wildlife crime? Maybe you are going to address that head-on somewhere below?]
The Government appreciates that many people hold strong views on the issue of driven grouse shooting [but you appreciate the views of rich Tory grouse moor owners rather more than anyone else don’t you?]. The Government considers that shooting activities bring many benefits to the rural economy and can [but don’t necessarily, so it depends on what people actually do, doesn’t it?] in many [well, at least you don’t say ‘all’] cases be beneficial for wildlife and habitat conservation [We hear that a lot. Which would be the government’s chosen model grouse moor in England that we could all go visit to learn please? And what proportion of England’s grouse moor area would you regard as being in good nick? Surely this is the place for you toreassure us about how well things are going – but you don’t]. We recognise that it is vital that wildlife and habitats are respected and protected and the law is respected. We will continue work [????] to ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation [notable that you are not claiming in these words that such a relationship exists at the moment. Do you believe that such a relationship exists at the moment? If so, you are bonkers! Or do you believe that such a relationship is somewhat lacking at the moment? In which case, what are the main areas for improvement and what is your action plan for that improvement?] . The Government has no plans to ban grouse shooting. [But we do, if that means changing the government then that works just fine. You are showing contempt for the 100,00 who brought this petition to your notice. Your wildful blindness will have been noted by them. You have noticed how many Tory constituencies are strong supporters of a ban on driven grouse shooting?]
Wild birds and other wild animals are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 [and the Birds Directive – do you plan to get rid of its protection by going for a no-deal Brexit?]. We have identified raptor persecution as a wildlife crime priority. Each wildlife crime priority has a delivery group to consider what action should be taken, and develop a plan to prevent crime, gather intelligence on offences and enforce against it. The Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) focuses on the golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine, red kite and white-tailed eagle. The group is working on developing tools to help tackle raptor persecution crimes. [Only the last sentence is new from your response in 2016. We’ll wait with interest to see what the new tools are and their impact. But you can’t claim any success can you? If you could, you’d be slapping it down on the table here.]
The National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is part-funded by Defra, monitors and gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting raptors and assists police forces when required. Despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine falcon, red kite and buzzard have increased. [This is a great example of wilful blindness. Defra knows perfectly well that all these species are routinely and systematically killed on grouse moors. Go to Nidderdale and see a Red Kite? Not on a grouse moor (and if you do, it won’t survive long). The science shows that Peregrines have increased off grouse moors and declined on grouse moors. This is simply saying something which is true, but does not respond to the real issue. And it cannot be because Defra is unaware of the facts – it is because Defra ministers are wilfully blind to the facts. I remain shocked but not the least bit surprised] We are concerned that with respect to eliminating illegal bird of prey persecution [you always do this – you avoid pinning the blame on driven grouse moors and instead talk in vapid generalities. This is another example of avoiding admitting the problem – the problem which it is your job first to recognise, and then to solve], there are still [you seem to have missed out the word ‘many’] individuals who continue to commit these crimes. We will work with all stakeholders to try to eradicate these crimes [yep, you always say something like that, and it is your job to do so. I note that you are not making any claims for having achieved anything at all in this regard since coming into power (for a while with some LibDems) in 2010. There is nothing to boast about on your watch, is there? A record of complete failure – except you never aimed to succeed, did you?]. Any evidence of crime should be presented to the local police force for their consideration.
Grouse shooting takes place in upland areas, which are important for delivering a range of valuable ecosystem services, including food, fibre, water regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity and recreational opportunities. UK uplands have 75% of the world’s remaining heather moorland and about 13% of the world’s blanket bog. [True, but that’s why you need to get a grip of unsustainable land management, isn’t it? You do not comment, or recognise, that intensive grouse moor management is a large part of the problem with reduced ecosystem services. Another great example of wilful blindness]
Seventy per cent of the UK’s drinking water is provided from upland catchments. The Government is committed to delivering positive environmental and economic benefits and creating a more sustainable future for the English uplands, including preserving and restoring peatlands through development of the UK Peatland Code; there is also funding of peatland restoration through Government-funded grants and private sector sponsorship. We will publish an England Peat Strategy later this year [interesting, and I’ll look forward to that very much, but I wonder whether you will. You’re assuming you get in again after the general election, which you well might, but not for sure. I’m actually just as interested in your response to the Glover report on so-called protected landscapes], setting out our vision for how our precious peatlands will be restored and protected.
Healthy, active peat provides good habitat for grouse as well as numerous environmental benefits and ecosystem services. Natural England is working with landowners of grouse moors to develop management agreements, which include vegetation management principles for the various habitats on grouse moors. These agreements aim to reverse habitat degradation and help landowners sustainably manage and restore upland peatland habitats. [But you haven’t yet got the European Commission off your case, have you? Infraction proceedings are still a possibility, aren’t they?] The Government encourages land managers to work closely with Natural England to put agreements in place for all the benefits they bring to moor owners and to the environment. The Government is working with moor owners and stakeholders to improve management practices and peat condition further through the Blanket Bog Restoration Strategy.
A report by the UK shooting community (Public & Corporate Economic Consultants report 2014: The Value of Shooting) concludes that the overall impact of game bird shooting is positive; the industry has estimated that £250 million per year is spent on management activities substantially benefiting conservation. The Moorland Association highlights that estates in England and Wales spent £52.5 million on managing 149 grouse moors for shooting in 2010. The industry supports 1,520 full time equivalent jobs and is worth £97.7 million across Great Britain. [This is an old and rather discredited report – as you know. If you were serious on this subject you would not have dismissed Les Wallace’s call for an independent evaluation of this matter. Or maybe you should Dieter Helm’s views on grouse moor management for a more authoratative view from a proper economist. But, as you know, the PACEC report does not look at the costed values of the externalities of flood risk, water treatment costs, carbon emissions, damaged blanket bogs and loss of protected wildlife. It also counts government grants which it should not (as they are land-use independent). Another marvellous example of wilful blindness, cherry picking and an amazingly cavlier way to end your response.] ENDS
This petition has, up front, the statement that ‘Wilful blindness is no longer an option’ but it certainly is within the Defra ministerial team. This response is a mixture of lazy and contemptuous. Yes, that’s exactly what it is – lazily contemptuous. I could write a more convincing response myself in an afternoon (but I am cutting the grass and watching the parliament channel this afternoon).
It’s not a response that any minister could take any pride in signing off but Therese Coffey (who I assume has signed it off) has shown not a jot of interest or action in this subject. Time to go Therese! Your parting shot from Defra will be this sorry response which will just persuade a few more people that this government doesn’t give a damn about wildlife, and actually doesn’t give a damn about the voters who do either.
This petition is still live and will be for a few days at least until parliament is ditched and/or a general election campaign begins.