Those calling for the licensing of grouse shoots have offered no clear idea of how such a system would work, says Countryside Alliance Scotland director Jamie Stewart
It will come as no surprise that the inquiry and debate into driven grouse shooting, which was triggered by the online petition on Parliament’s website calling for the sport to be banned, has been at the forefront of the Countryside Alliance’s activities over the past couple of months. However, we have also seen further “attacks” on shooting in Scotland, attacks that may have gone a little under the radar in the media but have had the full attention of the Scottish Countryside Alliance team.
Importance of shooting to conservation and the rural economy
The same week that MPs debated grouse shooting in Westminster, MSPs on the Public Petitions Committee in Scotland handled an oral evidence session on the “licensing of game bird hunting”. This session heard evidence from the RSPB and Scottish Raptor Study Group. The Countryside Alliance provided a written submission prior to the session outlining not just the importance of shooting to conservation and the rural economy, but also the inability of anyone to explain what the licensing system would look like!
In the evidence session that preceded the Westminster debate, Jeff Knott, RSPB head of nature policy, suggested a potential system could look like the current rod licence with individuals being licensed to shoot wild game. Given such a system would be identical to the one that was removed in 2007 because of its failings, this is unlikely to be a viable way forward.
Licensing of land?
On the other hand, there could be licensing of land, as desired by the raptor groups, that would see landowners pay for a licence to shoot game. However, this proposal raises even more questions — which people are shooting one brace of walked-up grouse per day need a licence, and would that licence cost the same as land that has the potential to produce 100 brace a day? And would that cost be dependent on whether the tenants were shooting the full 100 brace that the land is capable of producing? Then there are the further obvious concerns about the practicalities of enforcement and administration.
Ironically, this ill-conceived public petition based on “endemic persecution of birds of prey” was held days before the announcement that Scotland’s golden eagle population has surpassed 500 pairs for the first time since records began.
Public unconcerned by grouse shoots
The failure of MPs to back a ban on driven grouse shooting in Westminster follows the results of a recent ORB poll commissioned by the Countryside Alliance that demonstrated a serious lack of public concern for shooting. When 2,046 people were asked what were the most important issues facing the countryside, not a single person spontaneously mentioned shooting, grouse moors or anything to do with grouse. When asked directly, grouse shooting was the issue that the least number of people thought was important, with more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of respondents considering it unimportant, ranking it below wind farms, building on the green belt and mobile connectivity in order of importance.
Despite this lack of interest, anti-shooting activists — including a number of celebrities — are using the issue of grouse shooting to obtain meetings and debates to consider further ways of restricting shooting. This is disgraceful, particularly in a country such as Scotland, where the rural economy and sustainable use of the uplands are both heavily based on shooting. Furthermore, the RSPB suggested in the evidence session that shooting is negatively affecting rural tourism, but this is simply incompatible with the truth. Diversification by landowners has never been higher and countless estates now make full use of not just the shooting season but the tourism season as well. Subsequently, any restriction on shooting would undoubtedly see a reduction in rural tourism.
It is clear that some would like to see the RSPB go further and support the banning of driven grouse shooting, but its refusal to do so is at least an acknowledgement of the benefits that shooting brings to the countryside and rural economy.
However, the RSPB’s support for licensing measures does suggest a growing willingness to follow the small but noisy groups that would prefer it to adopt a harder line. This approach can only sow division between the RSPB and the working countryside, and the charity would do better to set its eyes on working together with the landowners and in particular shooting estates that are already doing so much for conservation. Hiding away behind the ever-growing fences of its reserves and refusing to admit the role land managers play within the countryside is a dangerous path for a reputable scientific charity to tread. It is one that could well lead it away from its core objective of safeguarding our most precious bird species.
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