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Grouse shooting and management: review and consultation

Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 5th March 2020.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must—

(a) commission an independent review of the economic, environmental and wildlife impacts of driven grouse shooting, and

(b) consult on regulation of grouse moor management.

(2) The Secretary of State must make available the services of any person or other resources to assist in the conduct of a review under subsection (1)(a).

(3) The Secretary of State must publish a summary of responses to the consultation under sub-section (1)(b).

(4) The Secretary of State must, no later than three months from the day on which—

(a) the review commissioned under subsection (1)(a) is received, or

(b) the consultation under subsection (2) closes,

whichever is the sooner, publish a statement of future policy on grouse shooting and grouse moor management.”—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to commission a review of the economic, environmental and wildlife impacts of driven grouse shooting and publish proposals for regulation.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Labour, Newport West

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 16—Grouse shooting and management: review and consultation (No. 2)—

“(1) The Secretary of State must—

(a) undertake a review of the economic, environmental and wildlife impacts of driven grouse shooting, and

(b) consult on regulation of grouse moor management.

(2) The Secretary of State must publish a summary of responses to the consultation under sub-section (1)(b).

(3) The Secretary of State must, no later than three months from the day on which the consultation under subsection (2) closes, publish a statement of future policy on grouse shooting and grouse moor management.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to conduct a review of the economic, environmental and wildlife impacts of driven grouse shooting and publish proposals for regulation.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Labour, Newport West

I am pleased to speak to new clauses 15 and 16. We know that our planet and climate are experiencing huge change, and the effects of the climate emergency are becoming an increasing feature of the world in which we live, affecting not just humans, but our natural world and our wildlife. The new clauses call on the Government to think about biodiversity, the uplands, the fragile and insecure rural economy, and the many people who live and make their way of life in our green and open spaces. The new clauses are also about the welfare of our wildlife. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East has campaigned on such issues over many years, and I pay tribute to her tenacity and commitment to animal welfare and our environment.

The weight of the scientific evidence before us is such that we can see that driven grouse shooting damages habitats, pollutes our water, increases greenhouse gas emissions, and involves the illegal persecution of birds of prey. The practice also increases the risk of floods, which damage properties and green spaces and lead to devastating deaths of people and animals alike. Right now, flooding is an issue of real concern for many people up and down the country. Those of us who were present for yesterday’s Opposition day debate on flooding heard powerful stories illustrating the need for upstream land management to prevent downstream flooding. As shadow flooding Minister, I was delighted that the Opposition motion received support from both sides of the House, including the Government Benches. By voting with us, Andrew Percy showed that, sometimes, politics does not need to win but common sense can.

The new clause addresses the effects of a practice that cuts across many different and important issues, and the Minister can surely support it. It would allow us to look at specific areas such our soil, drainage and hydrology, conservation, wildlife crime, and the wider concern about sustainability. As legislation such as this Bill passes through the House, we have the chance to address the many issues that have fallen off the to-do list. Let us take the opportunity new clauses 15 and 16 offer to commission a review so that we can methodically, clearly and carefully work our way through those important issues. The future of our planet and our natural world is in our hands, so let us get on and save it.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

My North Yorkshire constituency includes about two thirds of the North York Moors national park and vast areas of heather moorland, which is a glory to behold in late summer when the heather is in flower. Indeed, many people flock to the area to see the natural beauty of the landscape and to enjoy all the activities that take place there.

A grouse moor is a fragile environment. Historically, much of the area was forest. It was only when the trees were cut down for domestic fuel or to turn into charcoal to smelt with the limestone that was mined in the area that the forest disappeared. If we do not look after the heather in the right way, we will not keep it for very long. It needs managing not only for grouse, which cannot be reared artificially—it is an indigenous species in this country and needs to be reared in the wild—but for other species, particularly ground-nesting birds such as golden plover and lapwing, which rely on that fragile environment.

I join hon. Members who condemn the illegal persecution of raptors, but it is the case that by managing the moorland, the small mammals, birds’ eggs and other prey that the raptors feed on are facilitated. When we consider how to maintain those areas, it is important to listen to the experts. In an article, the North York Moors national park ranger David Smith said:

“Controlled burning is used to manage the heather better. After 15 to 20 years the heather gets old and leggy and you need different age structures for the wildlife that lives on the moor.

Grouse shelter underneath the older heather and the fresh new heather is more palatable for both sheep and grouse. What people don’t realise is that the North York Moors is a managed moorland. If you don’t stay on top of it, it would turn back to woodland, with birch and rowan trees quickly re-establishing themselves.”

The article continues:

“Cutting the heather, the alternative to burning, does work, but on very stony ground or uneven ground…it’s impractical”.

David Smith says:

“If you only cut the heather, you leave smaller vegetation close to the ground, it doesn’t destroy everything which is needed to give the new growth a fresh start.

Controlled burns flash across the top of the moor. They don’t destroy the seed bank. If you cut the heather, brash is left behind and smothers what’s underneath. It stops it from regenerating and slows down regrowth.”

The article concludes:

“Another reason for controlling the heather is to allow the sheep to move about more easily” and to provide tender young growth for the sheep, particularly the young lambs, to graze.

We have obligations regarding CO2 and we need to protect our peat areas, but the deposition of new peat is glacial in pace. If we want to use those areas as a carbon sink, we should follow the advice of George Monbiot and plant more trees. Perhaps we should plant more trees, but not at the expense of our traditional moorland. We should also make a distinction between blanket bog, such as the bog on Saddleworth moor, which tends to occur in the west of the country, and the dry heathland found in other parts of the country, particularly in the east. We saw on the news the apocalyptic scenes on Saddleworth moor when it was on fire in February 2019. During the recent fires in Australia, much criticism was made of the absence of what they called back burning. I maintain that the controlled burning of small areas of the moorland, at a time of year when those fires are unlikely to get out of control, means that we have natural fire breaks. I suggest that the new clause is not needed.

I suggest that there are those in this country who oppose grouse shooting for reasons that are not particularly environmental, but are to do with animal welfare or with the people who go shooting, whom they may not like. We should not use a false environmental argument to stop the traditional management of the moorland. My wife’s grandfather managed a moor at Troutsdale until he retired. That moor is not a moorland now; there are no grouse, there are no lapwings; it is brash and trees are growing rapidly. If it is not kept on top of and managed, that type of habitat, which is unique in Europe, is not preserved. We need to protect it.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is a genuine pleasure and honour to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable and committed environmentalists. The Government consider that shooting activities can bring many benefits to the rural economy, and in many cases are beneficial for wildlife and habitat conservation. We recognise that it is vital that wildlife and habitats are respected and protected. We will continue to work to ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation. There is no need for a commitment to review driven grouse shooting, as defined in the new clause, because we are already considering these issues. If there were to be a review, it might be more efficient and effective to consider other forms of grouse shooting and wider moorland management where there are no grouse, alongside driven grouse shooting.

The Government are already addressing rotational burning associated with grouse moor management on protected blanket bog. We have always been clear of the need to end burning on protected blanket bog to conserve vulnerable habitats, and we are actively looking at how legislation could achieve that. Our intention has always been to legislate if a voluntary approach fails to deliver. Real progress is being made in promoting sustainable alternatives, including consent for cutting of vegetation as an alternative to rotational burning, and removing or modifying consents to burn as higher level stewardship agreements are renewed. We have urged landowners to adopt those measures and continue to work with them constructively.

The recently released Werritty review addresses those issues in Scotland. The group’s report recognised the socioeconomic contribution that grouse shooting makes to Scotland’s rural economy, but made a number of recommendations that are currently being considered by the Scottish Government. We will watch closely to see how they respond. We do not rule out the possibility of a wider review into grouse moor management in the future, but I would not want to restrict that just to driven grouse management. Once Scotland has announced its plans, we will consider the benefits or otherwise of regulatory alignment between the two jurisdictions. I therefore ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the new clauses.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Labour, Newport West

I thank the Minister and the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby for their comments. I bow to the right hon. Gentleman’s expertise in this area; I accept his comments and I am pleased that he agrees with us at least in part.

The burning of heather is an emotive issue, and there are many different expert opinions on it. It is certain that careful land management is crucial to ensure that we achieve our environmental standards. That is why we tabled our new clauses. We all agree that tree planting is essential; the Government are already missing their own targets by at least 70%, so we must keep pushing.

I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman’s comments that this is a false animal welfare issue—it is not. It is a very real issue, which is why we have tabled the new clauses, following advice from outside organisations. I am pleased that the Minister is considering driven grouse shooting legislation, but let us start now and put it in the Bill.

Question put, that the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 37 Agriculture Bill — Grouse shooting and management: review and consultation

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.