19th June 2023
THERE IS NO STATUS QUO
Sustainable grouse moor management today is a world away from the myths presented by opponents
A report commissioned by the RSPB, published last week, assesses the economic, environmental and social impacts of driven grouse shooting across the UK.
The author, Matt Rayment of Rayment Consulting Services, sets out what he (and RSPB) perceives to be the available policy options: licensing; a complete ban on driven grouse shooting; or the status quo, described as ‘business as usual’.
Matt Rayment comes down in favour of a licensing scheme for England, perhaps similar to the system about to be introduced in Scotland.
The option described as ‘business as usual’ deliberately intends to convey to readers a vision of driven grouse shooting from a bygone era. This is a million miles away from the reality today.
Land management for grouse has evolved over many decades to provide a balance of revenue generation for the landowner, freedom of access for all leisure visitors, jobs for local communities and protected habitats that are vital for moorland species, from mammals to birds, reptiles, plants and invertebrates. These rare habitats cannot be replicated in lowland areas, if lost from the uplands.
GWCT’s 2022 report, Sustaining Ecosystems, examined whether grouse moor management contributes to the ecosystem ‘services’ that society increasingly expects from the English countryside, as defined in Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan goals.
GWCT found that grouse moor management does indeed contribute to these desired outcomes, by supporting habitats and wildlife, delivering cleaner air and water, contributing to greenhouse gas management and mitigating the problems exacerbated by climate change, notably flooding and wildfire.
By contrast, Matt Rayment’s report recognises the benefits of grouse moor management for some upland species, notably waders, but sadly it largely underpins the RSPB’s long-held position that grouse shooting should be licensed.
The Moorland Association and its members have moved with the times, and are committed to the most up to date conservation practices, spending a considerable amount of time and money — £52.5m per year — on moorland management.
The sector has already set up and is operating an independent assurance scheme – currently under review to improve further, and all at zero cost to the tax payer.
Conservation by gamekeepers and moorland managers today involves a wide range of activities including, to name but a few: peatland restoration and rewetting; revegetating bare peat; river rewinding; blocking moorland ‘grips’ to improve soil hydrology; species monitoring and reporting; riparian tree planting; restoring hedgerows; public education on the risks of wildfire and the importance of adhering to the Countryside Code; and vegetation management to help reduce the risk of wildfire.
This report does provide case studies of current grouse moors in England and Scotland and does allow those interviewed to present their view in their own words.
However, the report seems to have been written to fulfil a particular agenda. Any positive statement about land management for grouse is subject to a host of caveats – ‘it is argued that’, ‘BASC argues that’ while any negative statement about grouse moors is presented simply as fact.
All of the grouse moor case studies are referred to as representing ‘business as usual’ which is very far from being the case. The land management on these moors, in common with so many others, is designed to provide a range of important upland habitats. One of those featured, Bolton Castle, has among the highest populations of Lapwing and Curlew in the UK, not to mention increasing populations of Merlin, Hen Harrier and a pair of Osprey, which bred successfully on the estate last year – the first time Osprey have bred in Yorkshire in hundreds of years. Can this be described as ‘business as usual’? Any objective assessment would describe this as ‘nature recovery’.
The words ‘intensive’ and ‘intensively’ are used 72 times in the report; ‘raptor persecution’ is referred to 45 times while ‘sustainable/ sustainably’ appears 31 times – and not in relation to the English case studies. Evidence from the campaign group Revive is given equal weighting to peer-reviewed reports such as the Werritty Review, commissioned by the Scottish government.
The true picture of conservation-minded estates presented in this report does not lead to a balanced view in the executive summary, nor in the conclusions.
In terms of the economic impact of introducing a licensing scheme for grouse shooting in England, the report presents an optimistic analysis of the revenue that could be achieved by alternative land use, for example tourism to areas that are no longer grouse moors. There is no way of knowing whether tourism would increase or decrease in these circumstances. Currently there are more than 13 million visitors to the Peak District each year, and at least 20 per cent of the land area is managed for grouse shooting. Equally, natural capital investment is presented as an option for moors if driven grouse shooting were to end. But natural capital is a new and rapidly evolving land use. It is not clear how it would affect upland communities and indeed even the impact on biodiversity and climate change is difficult to predict at this stage.
The impact on local communities and jobs if driven grouse shooting were to be banned (the nuclear option) is described as having ‘a small effect on rural economies’ but the author states that job losses would be at least partially offset by tourism, other management activities and recreation. There is zero evidence to support this view.
A ban on driven grouse shooting is also said to offer ‘likely benefits for climate, water and flood management’. This again is unevidenced and wildly unscientific.
There is no analysis of the burden on the tax payer if land were to be acquired by ‘community groups’. In the past such acquisitions have largely been funded by government grants.
It is disappointing that RSPB has pursued such a divisive agenda when there should be so much common ground between us.
There is no such thing as the status quo – we are all working hard to protect nature and biodiversity.