Grouse Shooting

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 21st June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds), who made an argument that I entirely agree with far more eloquently than I could. I am also a member of the all-party parliamentary group on shooting and conservation, of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and of the Countryside Alliance.

Before I get into my main points, I associate myself with the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) about the value of game meat as a healthy food choice. Although a grouse that has been lingering at the bottom of his freezer for some years is not the best way to be introduced to the wonderful taste of grouse, I heartily encourage everybody who has not tried that tasty, wonderful meat to do so.

Those who understand grouse moor management and the benefits that it brings know full well that the real evidence shows that a ban on driven grouse shooting would make life worse, not better, for the wildlife that the opponents of shooting purport to want to protect. This issue needs to be debated on the facts, not on accusations motivated by a wider anti-shooting agenda. As Members have said, shooting is an integral part of environmental management and conservation. It is the gamekeepers employed by shooting estates who make that happen. It is gamekeepers who maintain the habitat and control predators, which benefits threatened species of ground-nesting birds.

Grouse moor management has played a key role in maintaining our upland landscape and sustaining some of our rarest plants and wildlife. Far from being the baron landscapes that I have heard described by some, grouse moors are incredibly important wildlife havens. Moors managed by gamekeepers support up to five times more threatened wading birds such as the curlew. Merlin numbers have doubled on grouse moors over the last 20 years, and 2020 was the best year for hen harrier breeding in England for two decades, with 60% of their nests on land managed for grouse shooting. I could go on with many more conservation success stories as a result of grouse moors that are well managed by gamekeepers, but time is tight.

It is not as if grouse shooting is not already heavily regulated and controlled. There is extensive legislation in place that has an impact on almost every aspect of grouse shooting and grouse moor management. Licensing requirements are in place across the board. Any additional legislation would add to the cost and bureaucracy of grouse moor management, leaving our moors in a worse condition.

It is important to recognise the economic benefits that shooting sports bring to rural communities. Grouse shooting in the United Kingdom has a direct estimated value of £100 million, creating the equivalent of over 2,500 full-time jobs. Between 60% and 80% of direct spending from grouse moors is within the local area of that moor. It is of greater significance to the local economy and community retention than any other form of activity. Because grouse moors are managed largely through private investment by their owners, they offer the most cost-effective model of upland management to the taxpayer. I genuinely wonder how those who want driven grouse shooting to end would fund and manage those vast moors, staff their management and pay for it.

Grouse shooting brings the rural community together in areas that can struggle with social isolation and lack of employment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) said. In addition to those who are shooting, a day’s driven grouse shooting involves a large number of other participants, bringing together up to 50 or so members of a local community of all ages and backgrounds. It underpins the social life of many communities and helps tackle rural isolation.

Let us be really clear: grouse shooting is good for jobs, the environment, species conservation and attracting high-quality tourism to remote rural areas—all without being a drain on the taxpayer. Those who are pushing for it to be banned have made no assessment of the ecological, social or economic costs. The evidence shows that the real conservationists are not those who call for grouse shooting to be criminalised; they are the hard-working gamekeepers who manage our moorlands day in, day out. Those calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting need to set out a viable alternative—an alternative vision for our uplands. Our heather moorland is internationally important, and it is widely recognised that grouse shooting has helped preserve it.