Shooting groups are concerned after a new report recommended that Natural England (NE) should take a tougher stance against landowners who ignore laws governing Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

The report, titled NE’s Role in Improving SSSIs, was published on 7 July by Westminster’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC). It investigates how the Government agency manages England’s 4,000 sites deemed important for wildlife habitat, many of which are used regularly by shooting interests.

The committee said NE had not been proactive in exercising its powers to take legal action against those landowners who persist in managing their land in a way that damages the habitat and wildlife. The report points to the 2000 Countryside Rights of Way Act, which allows NE to take enforcement action against landowners who persistently refuse to manage land in a way that conserves the SSSI. Enforcement options include compulsory purchase orders.

The PAC’s chairman, Conservative MP Edward Leigh, called on NE to draw up a detailed plan of action for each site. He said: “NE must do more to manage and monitor the progress of sites.”

The report’s findings are of particular interest to wildfowling clubs and moorland owners who frequently manage SSSIs. In fact, wildfowling clubs manage more than a quarter of a million acres of land in the UK, 90 per cent of which are designated as SSSIs.

Reacting to the PAC’s report, BASC’s wildfowling officer Mark Greenhough said that fowlers should not worry unduly about the findings: “There are some good examples of clubs managing SSSIs, such as the Kent Wildfowling & Conservation Association, which owns a site which contains 10 per cent of the county’s reedbeds, which is a priority habitat for NE.”

Mr Greenhough added: “The other thing to bear in mind is that shooters were managing habitat such as heather moorland in a way which conserves wildlife for years before the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act, thus pre-dating the legislation.”

The rest of this article appears in 16th July issue of Shooting Times.

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