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.[registration_form]