This paper is a mixture of the completely obvious and the quite important. It takes the oft-quoted suggestion by pro-grouse-shooting interests, that the only real alternative land uses to intensive driven grouse shooting are harmful agriculture and harmful afforestation, and says that isn’t true. It clearly isn’t, because what happens in terms of land use is a societal decision which will be influenced by the suite of regulatory and encouraging options that we put in place. For example, there has been little new conifer afforestation in the English uplands for decades because a previous Conservative government decided so. We can in theory have whatever uplands we wish to have. We, the public, are not powerless in these decisions, because this is a democracy and because public money pours into every land use and so we can adjust the flow to get what we want. Policy is a somewhat blunt but powerful weapon, but it is in our hands all the time.
The authors’ jumping off point for this line of thinking is Ian Newton’s book (Uplands and Birds – reviewed here) which is slightly unfair since that book has a good discussion of one of the alternative land uses for the uplands, namely rewilding. Often windfarms are the third in the list of land uses that we would get if driven grouse shooting were to go. They cite Mary Colwell’s Beak, Tooth and Claw (reviewed here) as one example of the mistaken view of future land use options but others they mention are all from GWCT sources but they fail to include Ian Coghill’s recent book, Moorland Matters (reviewed here) which seems to have been sent to every decision-maker in the country and which cleaves to the same erroneous view that the sheep, wind turbines and Sitka Spruce will run amok if we have the temerity to end an ecologically bankrupt land use of shooting artificially high densities of Red Grouse for fun. I couldn’t help smiling when I was reminded that Coghill’s book proudly boasts of a Foreword by the now-disgraced Conservative ex-cabinet minister, Owen Paterson.
This paper also references other books that put an alternative and more accurate series of future land use scenarios in play including my own (Inglorious, which to a large extent kicked off this debate in 2015, see here) but also James Rebanks’s 2020 English Pastoral (reviewed here), Ben MacDonald’s 2019 Rebirding (reviewed here) and Dieter Helm’s 2019 (Green and Prosperous Land – reviewed here). One could now add Andrew Painting’s 2021 Regeneration (reviewed here) and last week’s (February 2022) publication of Lee Schofield’s Wild Fell (reviewed here).
We are sometimes told how wonderful grouse moors are for raptors. This half paragraph is a useful antidote to that venom;
The authors of this paper conclude as follows;
What makes this paper more important than stating the pretty obvious is that its authors all work for the statutory nature conservation agency in England, Natural England. They can probably look forward to being branded as eco-zealots for speaking out in such a mild way. But seriously, this statement is helpful and we should make sure it is quoted widely. Unfortunately the flawed project-fear narrative from the shooting industry is out there very widely in books, leaflets etc and, more importantly, in people’s heads, and most of those people will not be avid readers of Ibis.
I thank the authors of this paper, and their bosses, for its appearance. It doesn’t say anything really new, it’s just remarkable in this day and age that it is being said at all by statutory agency staff. This slightly obscure (with all respect to Ibis) paper hardly represents a fightback from our conservation agency. It is not what we would have got from William Wilkinson and Derek Ratcliffe, but at a time when other parts of Natural England are going through contortions to try to prop up Hen Harrier brood meddling as a solution to a question that appears to be ‘How can we keep driven grouse shooting going?’ it’s good to see this paper appearing which says ‘We don’t necessarily need it anyway and if it went there are many future options, some of which might just be better’.