The latest petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting could allow shooters to tackle misleading claims directly if it is taken forward for a debate in Parliament.

Shooting organisations say the public has been misled, but welcome the chance to state their case and debate driven grouse shooting, after a Government petition to ban driven grouse shooting passed the 100,000 signatures required to be considered for a Parliamentary debate.

The petition was launched by former RSPB conservation director Dr Mark Avery, with the support of Eduardo Gonçalves, CEO of the League Against Cruel Sports, and TV presenters and conservationists Chris Packham and Bill Oddie.

According to the petition: “Grouse shooting for ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management which increases flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions, relies on killing foxes, stoats, mountain hares and so on in large numbers, and often leads to the deliberate illegal killing of protected birds of prey including hen harriers.”

Dr Avery launched a similar petition last year, but at that time failed to reach the 100,000 signatures required for a debate, garnering just 33,655. Instead he received a Government response highlighting the environmental benefits of driven grouse shooting and noting how the numbers of many bird of prey species have actually increased, despite cases of raptor persecution. This year’s attempt was far more successful —  the number of signatures in support of the ban is more than 111,000.

The public have been misled

BASC commented: “Those who signed a League Against Cruel Sports-backed petition to ban grouse shooting have been misled by an extremist campaign which could result in the destruction of much of Britain’s heather moorland.”

But BASC also welcomed the chance to show MPs the true value of driven grouse shooting: “The petition may lead to a Parliamentary debate, which BASC believes will provide an opportunity to dispel the myths promoted by organisations such as the League Against Cruel Sports.”

Celebrity bullies and internet trolls

Tim Russell, direction of conservation at BASC, explained: “Celebrity bullies and internet trolls have whipped up online support by pedalling half-truths, gross exaggerations and myths. The principle is that if you throw enough mud some of it will stick. That’s no way to decide policy for the UK’s precious uplands.

“We look forward to the opportunity to put the case for grouse shooting in Parliament. Evidence-based debate is the enemy of propaganda.

“Governments of all political colours have acknowledged the benefits of grouse shooting. Grouse shooting supports wildlife, supports conservation and is the lifeblood of isolated communities which would suffer immeasurably in its absence.”

Debate driven grouse shooting in parliament?

Countryside Alliance head of shooting campaigns Liam Stokes agreed with BASC’s sentiments: “While it is unfortunate that people have been misled into signing a petition against such a valuable conservation tool, it is a predictable feature of the social media echo chamber. Clicking a hyperlink is not indicative of strength of feeling or commitment to a cause.

“If a Parliamentary debate is triggered then we shall welcome the opportunity to broadcast the facts about grouse shooting, the real, hard work of conservation that maintains our uplands and their wildlife for all to enjoy,” he continued.

“Debate is good, debate is where the truth comes out. In the meantime, let’s get on with having the best season possible while bringing the multi-faceted benefits of gameshooting to the rural landscape, economy and communities.”