DEFRA has instead offered a weak assurance that letters airing the grievances of shooting interests will be read by the secretary of state for the marine and natural environment.

The Countryside Alliance (CA), Country Land & Business Association (CLA), BASC and the Angling Trust attended a meeting with secretary of state Huw Irranca-Davies, on 7th September, to seek assurances that sporting rights holders would have the same right of appeal and legal status as landowners under the proposed Bill.

In the Bill, the Government has tasked Natural England (NE) with creating a continuous path along the whole of England?s 2,748-mile coastline.

However, in its current state, the Bill fails to acknowledge the significance of sporting rights.

At present, the appeal mechanism for landowners and tenants involves the planning inspectorate (an independent body) in deciding whether or not the landowner has been treated fairly, which can lead to a hearing or a public inquiry if necessary.

Shooting groups argue that holders of sporting rights should be given the same rights of appeal.

At the meeting, Mr Irranca-Davies gave an assurance to BASC that shooters would have the right to make written representations which would be considered in full by the secretary of state, rather than in summary as is the case with other third-party representations.

Nonetheless, shooting groups are divided over the development.

BASC?s Conor O?Gorman welcomed the news: ?Under the current legislation, shooters and anglers only have the right to have their concerns taken account of in summary and have no full recourse to the secretary of state. BASC welcomes Mr Irranca-Davies? clarification that this will be changed to ensure the concerns of shooters and anglers are properly considered.?

However, both the CA and the CLA have said the move is nowhere near acceptable.

The CA?s Robert Gray told Shooting Times magazine: ?DEFRA?s decision falls far short of what we would consider satisfactory. However you look at this situation, holders of sporting rights in coastal areas are treated as second-class citizens. If you graze one sheep on a piece of land you have more rights than a wildfowling club holding sporting rights. This cannot be correct.?

Mr Gray added the CA is urging holders of coastal sporting rights to write to their MP demanding they are treated equally alongside landowners and tenants.

?Mr Irranca-Davies is a decent man, but he is asking the shooting community to rely on assurances rather than the law for future protection. Our experience and instinct tell us that this is a dangerous way forward,? added Mr Gray.

The CLA?s Christopher Price concurred.

He said the assurances are of little comfort to shooters: ?It is not really anything more than a promise to read a letter. It obviously falls well short of a right to have the decision reviewed by an independent body,? he said.

In response to the criticism, a DEFRA spokesman said: ?We recognise the concerns of those with a sporting interest and that is why we want to make sure they are involved in determining the best route around the coast. Those with sporting rights will be able to comment on the proposals. Under existing legislation, these groups are able to apply to Natural England for restrictions on access where necessary.?

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