The Guardian website is running this story ahead of tomorrow’s Observer. It states that the National Trust, Yorkshire Water and United Utilities have all put major restrictions on routine heather burning as practised by grouse shooting interests, and not just for this year.
It is of course notable that these three landowners have the public interest more at the core of their enterprises than do many individual landowners in the uplands. This news does not quite rank with Waitrose’s decision to go lead-free in its game meat but it is certainly a step in a similar direction. The Moorland Association’s members are looking more and more out on their own selfish limb and I gather cracks are appearing in the public facade of a united front. Maybe that’s why the Moorland Association website still doesn’t say ‘We support a cessation of heather burning because of the current situation’ up-front on its website – instead there is a lot of guff about men in tweed being the eyes and ears of the public until you get to the fifth paragraph!
Governments will take close notice of this move and it is to be hoped that the Scottish government will take this as a nudge towards the rapid introduction of licensing for grouse shooting as the Werritty report almost recommended.
The Observer headline looks a little of an overstatement, but there is no doubt that the pace of movement in the direction of an end to driven grouse shooting is indeed gathering pace.
Many grouse moors have done little shooting in the last couple of years and the prospects for this year do not look good – restrictions on burning, mounting criticism of the high level of wildlife crime on grouse moors and restrictions on access in the short term because of coronavirus make the prospects for grouse shooting this season all the more uncertain. Added to which, I hear that shoots of all sorts, Pheasant, partridge and Red Grouse, are finding that clients are attempting to cancel booked days of shooting this autumn partly due to uncertainties of the economic position by then. A day’s grouse shooting can easily cost over £5,000 per participant and then there are travel and accommodation costs, let alone your bar bill, on top of that. Not even the rich will necessarily see this as an essential anymore. The social cachet of a day’s grouse shooting is falling because of the headlines this activity has been attracting over many years (there’s even a book about why the whole sorry enterprise should be banned) and if your job, your bonus and even your ability to travel are under some doubt then it’s easy for the clients to want to give it a miss this year – and many grouse moors won’t find it easy to carry another year of low profits or complete losses.
So, although there is nothing in the article which really backs up the headline, there may be a lot more truth in it than there might seem on first reading.