Sir Nicholas speaks in support of biodiversity and conservation of the UK’s beautiful upland moorlands maintained and protected by well-managed grouse shooting.
It is a great privilege to be called to speak in this debate about a matter that touches on issues of great importance to this House: biodiversity; the uplands, their fragile economy and the people who live there and make their way of life there; and questions surrounding some of the most magnificent, special wild places in the whole of this beautiful country. May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) on the measured and careful way in which he introduced the debate?
I should declare an interest in that I am chairman of the all-party parliamentary game and wildlife conservation group and I am a keen game shot. I have had the great joy of spending a good deal of my time in the uplands ever since I was a child. The heather moorland of the sort maintained by grouse shooting is one of the rarest habitat types and enjoys some of the very highest conservation designations. These moors were not designated sites of special scientific interest in spite of being grouse moors but precisely because they were grouse moors. These wonderful places exist only because generations of owners have refused endless blandishments and huge grants from successive Governments to drain them, fence them, plant them with conifers, carpet them with sheep and cover them with roads and tracks.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will press on—I am afraid I have not got any time.
The owners did that because they love these wild places and the occasional chance to shoot grouse. Driven grouse shooting touches the livelihoods of thousands of people in the uplands: hoteliers, publicans, agricultural workers, shopkeepers, retired folk, children in the holidays and, of course, gamekeepers and their families. What I particularly want to ask today is: what would happen if driven grouse shooting were to be banned and grouse moor management were to cease?
If anyone wants to see in real life what that would look like, go to Wales, which in many places is an ornithological desert. Indeed, on one 5,000-acre estate in north Yorkshire, there are more golden plover than in the whole of Wales. This May, I walked on a well keepered and managed grouse moor that practises enlightened standards of stewardship. I heard curlew, grouse, golden plover, oystercatchers, skylarks, lapwings and the wonderful grey hill partridge. It was truly a miraculous and unforgettable cacophony of sound; people can see and hear for themselves the beneficial effect of legal predator control.
I pay tribute to the work of the gamekeepers in the uplands, whose contribution to the environment and to natural biodiversity in the hills we ignore at our peril. They are responsible for the control of foxes, crows, magpies and stoats, all of which eat the eggs of ground nesting birds. They are the unsung heroes of conservation, and those who take an interest in the matter without knowing much about it need to remember that man has been dealing with predators for centuries. Other colleagues will deal at length with the question of burning, but it is true that if you cease burning, you get long, degenerate, rank heather, which is unsightly and seriously inhibits the habitat for the very species that we want to encourage. Substantial sums of private and public money have gone into the eradication of bracken and thousands of acres have been controlled. Stop driven grouse shooting and all that work will halt; we will be left with old, rank heather, acres of bracken and, inevitably, an ornithological desert.
Driven grouse shooting plays a major part in sustaining communities on the edge of and in the middle of the moors—something that cannot lightly be dismissed. I am very taken with the views of Mr Avery when he was director of conservation at the RSPB; I understand that he started the e-petition to ban grouse shooting:
“The RSPB and other moorland owners and managers agree about many things—we care deeply about the countryside and are angered by the declines in blackgrouse and wader populations; we agree that grouse moors have prevented even greater losses of heather to intensive grazing and conifers”.
“Grouse moors undoubtedly provide good habitat for species in addition to grouse. Some birds, particularly breeding waders, do well on grouse moors. The package of management, which includes the killing, legally, of certain predator species, benefits a range of other bird species. On the subject of predators the RSPB does not oppose legal predator control and recognises that it is necessary if the objective is to produce a shootable surplus of gamebirds.”
And so say all of us.
Properly conducted grouse shooting is a force for good in the uplands. It would be a disaster for the landscape, biodiversity and many small but locally important rural economies were driven grouse shooting to be banned.
Monday 31st October, 2016
No 53. Col 236WH