Sunday, 10 September 2017

Perspectives on Grouse Shooting

A month ago an article was published in the Guardian written by that keen writer on birds, Mark Avery. Its purpose was to persuade readers that grouse shooting should be stopped and the evidence presented was, in my view, overwhelming. We've known it all for many a year, of course, but the subject has become more high profile in recent times, with petitions including one to parliament, revealing the depth of feeling across the country. There is no justification that shooters can come up with that even begins to deal with the case against driven grouse shooting; those attempted are so feeble as to be laughable.

What rarely gets mentioned in the debate and the arguments used when this issue is discussed is the role of the conservation industry, those heroic saviours of our wildlife and countryside. How often do you hear of the wildlife trusts' attitude to this so-called 'sport'? or the RSPB and the National Trust. Apart from the occasional brief and usually non-commital comment you will struggle in vain to find reference to the issue. Members of both RSPB and National Trust are less reticent and RSPB members are often well ahead of the charity's bosses encouraged by Avery as RSPB in exile; that led to an appearance before the parliamentary select committee of an RSPB man alongside Avery.

This is all very interesting but why is it that these charities hang back on this. You get an indication if you read one of the comments below the line of the Guardian article. That ruthlessly honest commenter on the management of our landscape, Mark Fisher, exposes the underlying anomalies and fault lines in the approach of Natural England and the designations it's responsible for that allows grouse moor owners to claim their 'sport'  benefits the landscape! I quote his comment here in full. If only there were more with his knowledge and integrity:

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Grouse moors and their SPA/SAC nature designations are one of the more intractable issues when the nature conservationists of which you speak, laud them for sloppy peat and alleged avian, reptile and invertebrate diversity, require them to be actively managed, throw agri-environment funding at them, but mostly hold their noses over the disgusting slaughter of everything else that goes on there - and that includes the RSPB which routinely shoots foxes. Because of this unholy alliance of vested interest between nature conservationists and grouse moor owners, the latter get to assert that they are saviours of "biodiversity" in that they are fulfilling the management requirements of the nature conservationists who brag about the extent and importance of heather moorland compared to continental Europe. Its the perennial rolling of excrement in glitter.
About nine years ago, as part of the process for informing the uplands vision in Vital uplands: Natural England’s vision for the upland environment in 2060 various scenario workshops were carried out that looked at how the future might look in 2060, and carried out an initial assessment of the long term risks and opportunities that could influence the natural environment by 2060. Unusually, the production of Vital Uplands was a very inclusive consultation process, as were these scenario workshops, in that they had a broad spectrum of views rather than the usual input from vested interest. One of the more striking outcomes from the scenario spinning was that grouse shooting would be banned way before 2060. Unfortunately, you wont find the report documents of those scenarios, nor the Vital Uplands vision, as they were pulled a few years after their launch as the vested interests complained about them, essentially because they had not been given a veto over what they contained.
Think about what that says about the ability of public will in this country to have any influence on the future of its natural world. Why don't we have a system like that in France - Grenelle de l'environnement - which brings together all of civil society on an equal footing to set ambitious national goals in many areas: biodiversity, natural resources, climate change, relations between the environment and public health, and issues of "environmental governance" and "ecological democracy", all of which end up in a national implementation plan that has legislative support. The quaint British custom of petitions hardly seems to match up.

A resounding "Hear! Hear!"

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