Grouse Shooting

Dave Doogan Excerpts
Monday 21st June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
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Thank you, Ms McDonagh. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair. I am happy that this debate has received a substantive airing and am grateful to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) for advancing it in his role on the Petitions Committee. I understand and respect the fact that he had no control over the title of the petition, which personally I find a little troublesome, because it gives the sense that if I do not see things in exactly the same way as others see them, I am somehow wilfully blind. That is not a very appropriate start to such an important and nuanced debate.

Turning to legislation, in a whole host of ways the UK’s bureaucracy and Executive trail in the wake of Scotland’s dynamism under 14 years of SNP Government. Members can take their pick from policy areas, including net zero targets, social care reform, tuition fees, rate relief, tree planting—the list goes on, and it includes the ambition for grouse moor management. By contrast, the dead slow and stop approach by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the challenge is unacceptable and does not benefit anybody on either side of this challenging debate.

In Scotland, the independent grouse moor management report, which is also known as the Werritty report, was published at the end of 2019. It took a comprehensive and consultative evidence-based approach to key issues surrounding the management of grouse moors in 21st-century Scotland. After careful consideration of the report’s recommendations, the Scottish Government will look at implementing a licensing regime for grouse shooting, providing a framework to the sector that will assist it in combating illegal persecution of raptors and related wildlife crimes. Grass moor estates found to be non-compliant—those that practise the types of behaviours that nobody wants to see—would face the prospect of not having a licence, whereas those that uphold the very best practices would be endorsed and licensed as undertaking a legal and productive activity. Those changes are designed to apply an achievable balance; the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked at length about the importance of a balance, and other hon. Members have discussed the need for evidence.

This approach is designed to apply that achievable balance on protecting wildlife and natural habitats, while ensuring that business adheres to the agreed standards on grouse shooting. Importantly, the report did not recommend that grouse shooting be banned, consistent with the remit to ensure that grouse moor management continues to contribute to the rural economy of Scotland, but it did recommend that heather burning be subject to increased legal regulation applicable to all moor burning, not just grouse moors.

As with all good debates, there are pros and cons; positives and negatives. Scottish Land and Estates will maintain that raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors has been addressed in recent years. Police-recorded crimes are at their lowest level ever. It will cite evidence that predators such as foxes and crows are managed on grouse moors to maintain a favourable balance with their prey, and that is scientifically proven to save rare and declining birds such as the curlew, lapwing, golden plover and black grouse, as well as mountain hares. Many hon. Members, especially the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Robert Goodwill), cited the recovery of some of those important breeds.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation will definitely share the views of a Scottish Land and Estates. It will share its view that muirburn supports other species and prevents larger fires from occurring. Both would contend that in moorland areas, grouse shooting is one of the most economically significant land uses, bringing in full-time permanent jobs and supporting local communities. I know that to be true.

As cons, the League Against Cruel Sports would claim that driven grouse shooting depends on creating artificially high numbers of grouse in order to make it commercially viable. That is achieved by large-scale elimination of natural predation and the engineering of environments in their favour. The petitioners will highlight what they suggest would be significant public support for an end to shooting of game birds such as grouse for sport. I have seen a figure of 69% of the British public in favour of a ban. Those questions need to be nuanced and contextualised for the consequences, not just the broad and bare ambition and aspiration. Finally, on the cons, the annual “Birdcrime” report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said that in 2009, four of the five worst areas in the UK for raptor persecution over the previous 10 years in Scotland were the highlands, the Scottish Borders, Aberdeenshire and, I am afraid, Angus.

The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) highlighted the lack of a UK Government economic impact assessment. That same absence is not evident in Scotland. The economic impact of the sector in Scotland was set out by research commissioned by the Scottish Government and published in autumn 2020, “A summary report of findings from research into socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts of driven grouse moors and the employment rights of gamekeepers”. The case study used in that published research showed that grouse shooting can generate a significant economic impact for communities, with impacts being generally localised.

Reflecting on my own constituency, I know very keenly how important employment on the estates is for communities in the Angus Glens—for the schools, hotels, shops and the petrol station. The total absence in those communities of alternative employment means that the number of potential job losses is not as important as the effect of those job losses on those communities.

We must not let anyone kid themselves that this is an issue of just one job here or another job there; it is about the living viability of very fragile, very rural communities and economies. No sector can operate in isolation, indifferent to the public opinion or the evolving nature of society and the division of standards of normative behaviours. An honest assessment would identify the fact that the industry has made improvements to its operating model, as has been set out. That must continue, especially in the light of the challenges around muirburn, lead shot and losses to natural predation, particularly aviation predation. Any demand for outright bans on established economic models, with the jobs and livelihoods of my constituents at risk, leaves me very concerned. Reforms, if required, need to be evidence-based and founded on consensus.