Many people are concerned about the impact grouse shooting has on protected birds of prey, such as the hen harrier, as well as on the environment more generally. Over 117,000 people have signed a petition on the UK Parliament website calling for driven grouse shooting to be banned. A decision on if and when a debate on driven grouse shooting will take place in Parliament is expected in early September.
At the 2015 general election, I stood on a manifesto which included a commitment to deal with the wildlife crime associated with shooting. I am concerned that birds of prey are intensively persecuted, and that iconic birds such as the hen harrier are in danger of being lost as a breeding species in England. More must be done to protect these birds and to reduce the suffering of animals on shooting estates.
In January 2016, the government published its plan to increase the hen harrier population. However, in July the RSPB withdrew its support for the plan, arguing that its voluntary approach has failed. The RSPB points in particular to the role of the illegal killing of hen harriers to prevent them preying on grouse. We need an independent review on how to end the illegal persecution of birds of prey.
Grouse shooting also contributes to flood risk. Research shows that the burning of heather to improve grouse moors reduces the land’s retention of water. The clearing of land for grouse shooting was also identified as one of the sources of the flooding we saw over Christmas 2015. This land clearing has little public benefit and I believe the government needs to take a stronger stance on it.
There are also concerns about the impact of the lead ammunition used for shooting. In 2010, the then Labour government established the Lead Ammunition Group (LAG) to examine the impacts of lead ammunition on the health of wildlife and those who consume game birds. In June 2015, the LAG published its report, which found that lead ammunition causes harm to wildlife and significant health risks to consumers of game. However, the government did not respond to the report until July of this year. Despite the LAG’s finding and the availability of safer alternatives to lead ammunition, it rejected the LAG’s recommendation to ban the use of lead ammunition.
I shall continue to support action to deal with the wildlife crime associated with shooting.