Grouse Shooting

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Monday 21st June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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First, may I apologise, Ms McDonagh? I was presenting a Bill in the Chamber so I could not be here beforehand. I ran the whole way over. Forgive me—I am a wee bit short of breath. I am not as young as I was, so running is difficult.

It is a privilege to speak on this issue. The last time we had a debate on this in Westminster Hall, the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) and I spoke, and it is a real pleasure to be back again. I should declare an interest: I am a member of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Countryside Alliance Ireland and Country Sports Ireland. I am a country sports enthusiast and also a conservationist. Indeed, I believe that one cannot be a country sports enthusiast without being a conservationist because they both march hand in hand to deliver what we want. That is why this matter is an important one to speak about.

There is no doubt that degraded peatlands emit carbon. However, it is estimated that 94% of UK peatland emissions come from lowland peatlands, not grouse moors. There is a distinct balance between what happens on grouse moors and what happens on our peatland. In fact, drainage and agricultural practices cause most peatland emissions. Grouse moors are estimated to store up to 35% of the UK’s peatland carbon, meaning that their emissions are well below other land uses. We see a far greater biodiverse habitat of species on a managed grouse moor than on other areas of moorland that are not actively managed.

I have never been on a grouse moor in Scotland. I have never shot a grouse, although I have often wished that I had the opportunity; perhaps some time that will come my way. However, one way or the other I am here to support those involved in grouse shooting. I feel very strongly about it, which is why I wanted to be here to support our shooting comrades.

There are 2,592 full-time jobs in England, Scotland and Wales on the moorlands, with 1,772 actively managing the moors. The economic value per year is worth £67 million. Then there are those who come for tourism—those from the EU and America who come to shoot on the moors and take advantage of that. There are very successful grouse shooting moors across England, Wales and Scotland.

I was interested to learn that the University of York’s peatland study, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for five years, is now funded by over 20 organisations, including the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Yorkshire Water, United Utilities and the Moorland Association. I am pleased to see the Minister in her place, as I always look forward to what she says. I know her response today will be well worth listening to and taking on board, and will answer many issues and address the concerns that some people have.

On the pros and cons of different types of management, there is a strongly presented argument against a burning ban on blanket bog. It outlines that burning should remain part of the overall toolkit, and is concerned about the negative impacts that mowing may cause, including increased methane emissions. Over a 20-year time frame, 1 kg of methane warms the planet as much as 96 times more than 1 kg of carbon dioxide. Those facts have to be considered in relation to this petition. It is important to get the balance.

I understand concerns about upland fires, but in my opinion we need more research on the data. Controlled burning causes 68% of upland wildfires, yet only 10% of upland fires have precise data on the cause of fire. Again, that poses a question. A Natural England report specifically states:

“Care is needed in interpreting these findings given the small proportion of overall fires where a specific cause was assigned and potential bias and subjectivity in these assessments”.

According to the same report, only 8% of all upland wildfires occur in the autumn months, when the bulk of controlled burns are undertaken. I commend all of those who are involved in the management of moors for the controlled and cautious way in which they work. Some 92% of wildfires occur during the spring and summer months.

The study calls for a universal categorisation method and better recording, and I support that because it is important that we get this right. Controlled vegetation burning to reduce the fuel load and protect peatlands from wildfire is an essential tool used across the globe. Recent research from the USA shows that controlled burns can reduce wildfire risks on peatland across the globe. The evidential base supports the controlled burning of parts of the moor, so that the moor can regenerate and provide necessary food for wildlife in that area.

The BASC and the Moorland Association are part of the England and Wales Wildfire Forum. Gamekeepers play a key role in preventing and tackling wildfires, with their local knowledge and specialist equipment. When fires happened a few years ago in parts of England, it was the local gamekeepers and those involved in the management of the moors who came to the fore to give the support needed. Some of them worked 24-hour shifts and should be commended for what they did.

We all have a part to play in making the most of our grouse moorlands and it is right that questions are asked, but it is also right that we heed the research work that has been done, to ensure that we are doing our best to conserve and make the most of the phenomenal natural habitat that we have been granted. We are holding the habitat and the wildlife in trust for those who come after.

It is my reasoned belief that controlled moorland management is an intricate part of this. I support those who shoot on the moors, as well as those who manage them and those who ensure that the potential £67 million per year of tourism income is harnessed and delivered safely. Almost 3,000 jobs are involved, and they are very important, as is that potential money from tourism. I support those who ensure that the grouse moors will live on long after this auld boy is away, and maybe after my children and grandchildren.