The Werritty report into grouse shooting was published yesterday after an unconscionable two year period. I accept that Prof Werritty was ill during this period but this report is not an impressive document and will not command much respect. It does give the Scottish government a free hand to do whatever it wants to do in terms of better regulation of grouse moor management but the report is largely irrelevant, because of its own internal failings.
I spent quite a lot of yesterday reading the report, and re-reading it, but it is difficult to regard it as a Christmas present. In an independent expert report it is the thought that counts, and this report is a bit threadbare in that regard. Prof Werritty should have been told that a report is not just for Christmas, it is for life and this one will be pushed to the back of the cupboard pretty quickly.
There are six main points I’d like to make initially:
1. The group agreed unanimously that licensing of grouse shooting should be brought in but because of divisions along entirely predictable lines the group would only sign up to this view if the recommendation for licensing were put off for five years and made conditional on lack of progress on the relevant issues that need to be addressed. The relevant part of the report is as follows;
The Group was evenly split on whether or not to license grouse shooting. When, as Chair, I sought to exercise a casting vote in favour of the immediate introduction of licensing, this was contested by two members of the Group. In order to have a unanimous recommendation on this key issue with the authority that implies, the Group proposes a five year probationary period for specified raptors on or near grouse shooting estates to recover to a ‘favourable’ conservation status. Should this target fail to be achieved, then licensing should immediately be introduced.https://www.gov.scot/publications/grouse-moor-management-group-report-scottish-government/
Prof Werritty is as much use to grouse moor reform as Jeremy Corbyn is to the Brexit debate.
The split in the group was entirely predictable, and was predicted. And this is the fault of the Scottish government. Having two practitioners from grouse shooting and a bunch of academics on a group is a recipe for indecision even on a subject as obvious as better regulation of an unsustainable land use which depends on wildlife crime fior its profitability. Those in the shooting camp want no changes, and the academic neutrals live in a world where everything needs to be proved before you can move an inch. That actually isn’t what an expert group should do – they should act as experts. This task was beyond this group.
But it allows politicians to do whatever they want – let’s hope that the Scottish government gets on with it, and quickly! Given that licensing is an extremely moderate proposition, and given that it almost certainly won’t work, let’s get on with giving it its chance as quickly as possible.
It will be crazy if the SNP government doesn’t move forward with purpose and speed.
2. Lack of use of references in the report.
The report goes on and on that it is important to base decisions on science and then fails to do so. There are so many statements in the report that are contentious but the Werritty group has failed to indicate which studies and pieces of evidence have persuaded it in any places. Yes, there are lots of references but they are simply a list hanging at the end of the document. There is nothing which says anything like this ‘A & B say this, C says this and D says this, and we believe that C is closest to the truth because theirs is the best designed study with the largest sample size’ or anything remotely similar.
You would have to read all of the references and then you would still be guessing which studies persuaded Werritty the most. This is very poor. The Scottish government cannot look closely at the evidence gathered and check the Werritty assessment and neither can the rest of us. An undergraduate project could have come up with a list of references in a lot less than two years.
3. Some issues are hardly addressed
I know that Scotland is different from England but I was surprised that so many issues which would have almost undoubtedly featured in such a report produced south of the border were so neglected. The tricky issue, for those of us who would happily see intensive grouse moor management disappear, of higher densities of breeding waders on grouse moors, hardly features, and not at all prominently. But then harm to blanket bogs from muirburn, carbon sequestration, water quality and flood risk hardly feature either. The Scottish government has agreed that there is a climate emergency but Werritty slides past the subject as though it were irrelevant. This is simply bizarre.
4. Economics entirely mishandled
When looking at the socio-economic contribution that grouse shooting makes to Scotland’s economy the Werritty group fails to examine the externalities of non-market costs and benefits represented by the issues such as wader densities, flood risk and carbon storage. These are all highly relevant to the issue, are usually ignored by those who are the greatest fans of grouse shooting, and are entirely germane to the remit of this report. A prominent academic economist is scathing about the ‘value’ of grouse shooting but this report misses the whole subject by miles.
5. Protected areas
The Scottish government is responsible for meeting domestic and international legal obligations on the status of designated areas. This is hardly mentioned. The lack of professional nature conservationists on the group was a big mistake. What were the advisors doing?
6. Not much use to us down south
This report does not move things on – that remains the job of the Scottish government. While we don’t expect that much progress from our government in England the action on moorland burning is far ahead of what Werritty has considered.
This is an inexpert report which helps no-one. Happy Christmas.