Countryfile last night

Last night’s Countryfile programme was great on butterflies and better than usual on crimes against birds of prey. You can watch the whole entertaining programme here and the raptor slot started at about 10:20 into the show (the butterflies before were really great!).

Tom Heap was the presenter of this item and he’s pretty good, but I want to pick him and the programme up on one thing (I could be picky about others, but it’s a sunny day and so I won’t).

‘A gamekeeper’s job is to protect gamebirds for shooting, an industry that is worth 2 billion pounds to the rural economy’

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000jrxz/countryfile-johns-home-patch at 12:52 into the programme

I’ve listened to this snippet several times and although it is just possible that Mr Heap meant that the shooting industry was worth £2bn I took it at the time to mean that game shooting was worth £2bn. I don’t blame Tom Heap for getting this wrong, but it is wrong. It’s one of those things that is often said, almost always by those who are lobbyists or strong supporters of shooting, and I wonder whether they believe it themselves (but it’s still wrong) or whether they are just stretching things a lot on purpose.

It reminds me of the erroneous but not yet retracted claim from grouse shooting supporters, including DEFRA, that 75% of the world’s heather moorland is in the UK – see here for a clear, detailed debunking of this rural myth.

Reason 1: the source of the figure of the ‘worth’ of shooting appears to be a confusingly structured and somewhat opaque report commissioned by the shooting industry – this report by PACEC. It estimates that the Gross Value Added by shooting of all kinds was £2bn – that includes indoor target shooting, clay pigeon shooting, pest control of pigeons (not game) and deer and a whole bunch of other things. Only 79% of shooting participants spend any time at all on shooting live ‘quarry’ and large chunks of this are spent on pest control (see Table 24 – and good luck making sense of it?), like shooting 1-3 million Woodpigeons (not game and not shot for sport) and deer and Rabbits. So, we know that £2bn must be too high, and quite a bit too high, but not how much too high.

Reason 2: the data are very unreliable, I would guess, because they come from a survey of people keen on shooting who are asked to contribute to a survey of the value of shooting. There must be a chance that in the circumstances, where nobody is checking your answers, that there is a temptation to push them up a little, or a lot.

Reason 3: the basis of the economic argument has been criticised by academics (though note, academics hired by the League Against Cruel Sports to do the criticising). For a start, if Treasury guidelines were adhered to the total sum would drop from £2bn to £0.5bn at a stroke.

Reason 4: much of the money spent on shooting comes directly from the taxpayer in land-based subsidies – these can’t really be counted as the value of shooting as we would be paying that money to other landowners if shooting did not occur – these are large sums.

Reason 5: the ‘worth’of shooting has been assumed to be the money spent on shooting. What about the costs of any impacts of shooting? These weren’t taken into account at all. Pretty obviously the fact that processing shooting licences costs more than the application fee is a not-very-well-hidden subsidy from society as a whole to shooting. That is a cost, a clear cost. Increased flood risk and water treatment costs due to the management regimes employed on grouse moors are two examples of societal costs that are experienced by, and imposed on, those who are non-participants and who gain little or nothing from shooting. Not being able to see Hen Harriers where they should be common is a cost to us all which ought to be given some monetary value and which is a debit item.

Reason 6: alternative land uses would probably bring in higher real economic activity and not have the large environmental costs. The spend on shooting is nowhere near the best way to spend that amount of money. those parts which are public money could be spent to greater effect elsewhere…

Reason 7: … and if all game shooting were banned (not that I am suggesting that, except for driven grouse shooting) then the current private spend would be spent on some other leisure activity, given to charity or spent in some way – it wouldn’t simply disappear. Just as if, if birdwatching were banned I’d find a different way to spend my money, I guess – that spend wouldn’t disappear from the UK economy.

So, in short game shooting is not ‘worth’ £2bn per annum because the sums were done wrongly (Reason 3), the £2bn figure includes all sorts of other shooting apart from game shooting (Reason 1), the data were provided by people with an interest in the result (Reason 2), some of it is our money anyway (Reason 4), spend does not equal worth, particularly when you ignore the costs (Reason 5), there are better ways to generate higher economic returns to society and so this spend has opportunity costs which reduce its ‘worth’ (Reason 6) and the money wouldn’t be lost to the economy if shooting ceased (Reason 7).

So, let’s challenge this every time we see or hear it a bit more assiduously.

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10 Replies to “Countryfile last night”

  1. 2 Billion quid – you would have thought that they would have the wherewithal and motivation to root out criminality once and for all. Their industry is at risk after all.

    On a second point. Roughly how many gamekeepers are there in Nidderdale? How big is the bud that needs nipping?
    Paul?

  2. Countryfile was interesting. Sometimes change is so slow that you wonder if it’s happening at all. But the tone and content of that report would have been a surprise even 6 months or a year ago. Things seem to be moving and it’s all in one direction. Soon it will surely start to have serious implications for grouse moor land values, if that is not already happening.

  3. Very good comments of yours Mark. The figure of £2 billion in my view is quite meaningless. From an economic point of view the figure is worthless unless it is clear what it includes and what it does not. For example is it an annual figure ? Further, I would suggest the great damage done to the environment by the shooters by their mismanagement of our huge area of uplands probably well exceeds £2 billion. There is also the criminality associated with shooting.
    Clearly this myth of £2 billion needs to be demolished over the coming months. I would not be surprised if when the sums are done properly that it turns out that shooting is of no benefit at all and is actually costing the average / ordinary individual.

  4. And the anonymous dislikers continue disliking without ever advancing an argument of their own …

    1. That’s because (as we’re all well aware) they don’t have one, Francis. They’re utterly bankrupt; intellectually, legally, and morally. Furthermore, every unsupported “dislike” merely confirms what we already know, but (amusingly) they’re too stupid to realise the fact.

  5. In answer to your question Mike there are the following grouse shoots in the Nidderdale AONB:- Langbar, Blubberhouses, Pockstones, Heyshaw, Heathfield , Gouthwaite Moor, Ramsgill, Stean ( also tenant North Angram from YW) Summerstone, Middlesmoor, Swinton, Jervaulx, Dallowgill, FountainsEarth/Sypeland and Wath. All have at least one keeper some have two, Swinton and Dallowgill have three each. Then there are the pheasant shoots about which I know much less although Swinton have an entirely separate pheasant team and Middlesmoor do not. Some pheasant shoots are entirely separate. Quite a few birders refer t the area as “ bandit” country.

    1. Thank you Paul. I was confident that you would know the facts.

      Not so many that it would make it particularly hard for Nidderdale to clean up its act then . One Moorland Assoc training and awareness course should do it.

      I heard that Red Kites had recently made it as far north as Leyburn from Harewood after very many years of trying and failing to cross the “Maginot Line” that is Nidderdale.

      1. I suspect that the only way to get them to tow the line and after all these years obey the law would be to threaten either pockets, big time, they are Yorkshiremen after all. Remember that the new chair of the Moorland Association is a local owner, there is a Nidderdale rep as well from Middlesmoor estate and another from the MA top table is agent for at least two of these moors.
        Absolutely nothing else has worked, although a local keeper going to jail might work but seems unlikely at the moment. Unless of course the police get lucky or somebody talks or they get one for the possession, illegal storage, use and supply of the Nidderdale mix of poison.

        1. I nearly forgot the keeper we assume was involved in the Denton Marsh Harriers and was prosecuted (and sacked) over a badger snaring incident is no longer a keeper but he is part of the regular beating team on several of the listed estates every year.
          Red Kites in the Leyburn area are still pretty close to some very unsafe places. interestingly talking of Kites, they are of course once established creatures of habit usually using the same nest or another very close by. Anything else may be an indicator of persecution. There are about 25 nest sites in the Harrogate recording area in any year, which includes much of Nidderdale, of the sites used in 2017 9 were apparently vacant in 2018, that seems very suspicious to me at least.

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