Angela’s keynote address to the Raptors and Grouse Moors Conference
Can I first pay tribute to Ian and Christine for their introductions?
I have particularly known Ian for some time now and it's a pleasure to share the opening of this Conference with him today.
I want to start with a comment about my own constituencyI have walked the hills in my area for many years, going back well before 2005, when I became an MP. I love with a passion those moors - Langsett, Midhope and Broomhead, partly because I do not come across the lycra-clad brigade in large numbers
But the simple and stark fact is that neither do I see hen harriers on those moors. Or even peregrine falcons - I've only seen one in recent years, soaring over Broomhead reservoir.That should concentrate our minds more than a little.
Grouse moors aplenty, but no hen harriers. No stable populations of other birds of prey.
That's one of the reasons why I feel so passionately about this issue; not only am I a member of the RSPB, and have been for a long time, but I also know there is something wrong with our moorland habitats. There is something missing; healthy populations of our wonderful raptors.Now, I welcome this conference and hope that it can make a contribution to resolving the deeply embedded conflict that characterizes the debate about how best to manage our moorlands
Because one thing I am certain of - for as long as this conflict remains unresolved, the number one loser is the hen harrier, which is in danger of disappearing altogether from our wonderful uplands if we do not sit up and get on with the job of sorting out this problem
Over the next two days, you will hear a range of presentations from speakers with a wide range of perspectives and who represent different parts of the UK - Scotland, the Peak District and Bowland, for example
The discussions will be detailed and complex, and so they should be. This is not a black and white problem, easily resolved
So let me just throw in a few, brief comments about what I see as the politics of this debate
First of all, let's remember politics is the art of the possible and it is always preferable to act on the basis of consensus and partnershipSo, ideally, the best way forward, as far as our moorlands are concerned, would be to see all interested parties agreeing principles and working through differences to establish moorland management plans that balance sporting interests with the need to restore and maintain a healthy habitat, including of course stable and sustainable populations of raptors
Such plans would vary, of course, because our uplands are themselves wonderfully diverse. The grouse moors in my constituency are part of our precious Peak District blanket bog and are badly degraded (show maps) - amongst the most badly degraded in Europe. That does not mean other parts of our moorland landscape are the same. Each upland habitat needs its own plan, tailored to its own precious ecology
But it has to be said that the chances of delivering success with this voluntary approach look increasingly remote. Despite the partnership work still ongoing in places like the Dark Peak, which I know you're going to hear about later, the events of this summer suggest that relationships between the different parties involved are becoming even more difficult.
The withdrawal of the RSPB in particular from the Hen Harrier Action Plan is indicative and is a consequence of what the charity sees as a failure on the part of the landowners and the shooting interest to combat effectively the illegality that tarnishes the reputation of those who do want to enjoy their sport responsibly.
And, for a politician this is depressing news, for although there are legislative options available to us, the irony is that they become necessary at that point when conflict has deepened and become more firmly entrenched.
The first of these options, banning driven grouse shooting presents an apparently straight forward solution but runs the risk of alienating landowners, who in the final analysis maintain and manage our moorland areas and provide employment for many people living in rural areas. It may well also do little to prevent further persecution - there is no guarantee that making grouse shooting illegal will necessarily lead to a cessation of the illegal killing of birds of prey.Licensing is the other option available. Now, I understand that for the grouse shooting community this is also an unpalatable option and in many ways I would join with those who say that a voluntary, partnership based approach is preferable.
But let me also say this-the option has to remain on the table. If this conflict continues and if raptors continue to be persecuted, it will have to be considered. Politicians will not be able to stand aside and allow hen harriers to disappear from our uplands altogether habitats that can sustain the sport of shooting that so many people here today love so much
Enjoy the conference; I can stay for only this morning, but I wish you every success in at least taking a few small steps in the right direction