Angela's full Grouse shooting debate speech
My speech for the Grouse shooting debate, or rather the one I would have given if I’d had the time!
Moors in my area characterized by a long tradition of grouse shooting; but nevertheless they represent a habitat which is badly degraded and which needs a lot attention if it is to be restored to
Favourable Condition StatusOne still able to enjoy the wonders of nature – curlew, snipe, the golden plover and the fantastic mountain hare. But no peregrine and no hen harriers; peregrines nesting happily in Sheffield city centre but not on the moors in my constituency.
The petition, two petitions in fact.
Huge concern over the plight of the hen harrier and other raptors and quite rightly so; in 2013, there were no successful hen harrier nests in England and the numbers remain stubbornly and pitifully lowOf course this debate is also concerned with the conservation status of the moorland habitat favoured for grouse production and shooting
Lot of confusion over this habitat; grouse moors in my area, for instance, are areas of blanket bog which support extensive heather habitat; this is quite typical of grouse moors more generally, and it is important to understand the need to balance conservation of a healthy heather habitat with the need to restore and maintain our precious blanket bog.
Need to be clear at this point; causes of blanket bog degradation are varied. Industrial and atmospheric pollution, over grazing, wind erosion, drainage of the moorland. The management of moorland for grouse is one of many factors, in fact, and it is important to be honest about the full extent of the reasons why moorland in areas like mine are in such a sorry state – not least, of course, because we need to tackle tough issues such as atmospheric pollution and climate change
But the management of moorland habitat for grouse has become controversial, not least because increasingly the feeling is that there has been a significant prioritization of habitat conducive to maximum grouse production, at the expensive of the health of our blanket bog
And of course the burning regimes traditionally favoured as a moorland management tool are at the heart of this particular controversy
What doesn’t help is that the science is genuinely unclear on this.
Much work is being carried out; references were made in the evidence session last week to the various studies already undertaken in relation to burning on blanket bog and its hydrological and various other impacts, for instance, on temperature and biodiversity
But more work needs to be done and I am pleased that the University of York has undertaken a 10 year, longitudinal study which attempts to remove as many variables as possible from its experiments, especially in relation to pre-management regimes, in order to establish a more robust understanding of the impacts of current management standards on blanket bog moorland
This study is 5 years through and has been funded by DEFRA. It needs a further fiveyears if we are to secure a set of robust conclusions. DEFRA is not committing to Phase 2, however, apparently because of cuts, and this despite the fact that at the very most, an extra £650k is required.
I look forward to the Minister’s comment on this in her conclusions and to a commitment that this project will continue.
I acknowledge, however, that we cannot wait for the science to make progress. Just 26,000 of our 176,000 hectares of upland blanket bog classified as SSIs are in favourable condition.
of course, when it come to our wonderful birds of prey, let’s remember that we saw only three successful hen harrier nests this year in England
We just can’t wait; we need to resolve the conflict on our grouse moors now and we need to make every effort to establish management regimes that balance economic and conservation interests, regimes which are capable of adjusting to change as new science emerges to establish best practice
Now, there are a number of options available to us as the science around grouse moor management evolves
The first involves the voluntary approach, favoured by DEFRA. Its Strategy for the Restoration of Blanket Bog was published last year and focused in its overarching vision on not only ‘restoring or enhancing the range of ecosystem benefits relevant for each site’, but also on ‘building and supporting sustainable businesses in the uplands which have adapted to work in harmony with the requirements of well-functioning blanket bog
Now that’s all worthy, and implicit in this vision is, of course, the restoration of a healthy population of raptors on our grouse moors
But if this Strategy is to work, the Minister must show some leadership and demonstrate a sense of her responsibility to do all she can to make this work.
So, I have a number of questions for the Minister:
The Strategy details the need for a working definition, at England level, of what Favourable Condition Status is in relation to blanket bog. Can we have a progress report, please, from the Minister, as this definition is critical to the development of the Site Restoration Plans that will underpin the implementation of the strategy. And can she confirm that this definition will include measures relating to raptor populations?
Year 1 of the programme was dedicated to a series of ‘Bogathon’ events, accompanied by ‘active engagement on a suite of sites where positive relationships already exist or are developing and/or there is a significant opportunity to improve the condition of a site in the short term.’ The document goes on to point out that ‘these pilots will be important in demonstrating the benefits on the ground and also in refining the approach and potentially revealing further evidence needs.’
Again, can the Minister indicate that these Year 1 milestones have been successfully concluded? And will she commit to updating the House in writing as to the lessons learned from this first phase?
This matters, because of course if the House is to be satisfied that the voluntary approach to resolving issues relating to our grouse moors is going to work, we have to hear from the Minister that the Government’s own strategy in this regard is on track to deliver positive outcomes.
And of course confidence matters, because the debate about how best to manage our grouse moors is increasingly contentious, increasingly fraught.
Even those of us who believe in the voluntary approach are beginning to despair. The breeding of the hen harrier this year has been very poor in England, as I have already mentioned, and it is becoming clear that progress in delivering a sustainable future for our moorlands, which allows us to balance economic and environmental objectives, will stall, stutter and shudder to a halt unless something is done to stop the persecution of our birds of prey.
To put it quite simply, the killing must stop. It must stop and it is quite clear now that this is a prerequisite to progress. Even in the Peak District, where voluntary partnership working on raptors has been ongoing for some time, patience is wearing very thin indeed.
Will the Minister therefore underpin the voluntary approach outlined in her department’s strategy for blanket bog restoration by exploring the possibility ofintroducing an offence of vicarious liability?
Responsible landowners have nothing to fear from this and everything to gain; by isolating and effectively dealing with the illegalpractice, the law abiding majority can gain credibility and trust on all sides in this matter. Indeed, will the Minister not acknowledge that the Hen Harrier Action Plan itself could be strengthened by such a move
This brings me to licensing. There are many regulations pertaining to grouse moor management, mentioned by the Hon Member for, and I accept that it is unclear how a licensing system would work to effectively streamline such regulations while also delivering a more sustainable system of moorland management.
But will the Minister at least confirm that it has to stay on the table as a political option? After all, if the implementation of the blanket bog strategy is fundamentally built on voluntary partnerships, then is it not equally true that legislative options need to be held in reserve?
In other words, will the Minister spell out today how she will respond if it becomes apparent that the Strategy is failing to deliver? And if she does not think licensing would work in that context, when all else has failed, how will she proceed to take this essential work forward? What tools does she have in her box to restore blanket bog and raptor populations, in the event of the failure of the Strategy?
Two final points, Mr(s)
First of all, it would aid the effort to build trust between different interests in this debate if the landowners were to commit themselves to more transparency in relation to their land ownership, and in relation to their receipt of public monies via agri environment schemes.
So, will the Minister commit to at least looking at this? I say this because there is unfortunately a lingering suspicion that the ownership and management of grouse moors is deliberately secretive and that there is something to hide. Let’s shine a light on this; I don’t think for a minute that landowners have anything to lose from the introduction ofsuch a measure.
Secondly, the concept of banning grouse shooting. This I do not support, first and foremost because I do not believe it would work. It is an option, of course, but there is no evidence that banning grouse shooting would automatically deliver the end of persecution of birds of prey.
This issue must be resolved, and it must be resolved soon. It is a polarized debate, characterized by division and a lack of trust on all sides. The Minister has a key role to play in dealing with this; at the very least, she has the power to send out a powerful, positive message about the future of our raptor populations and their relationship with our precious upland habitats.
So I look forward to hearing that message from her today and to hearing her answers to all my questions. No more prevarication, let’s have leadership from the Minister and a clear sense of determination that the hen harrier and our grouse moors can look forward to better days.