The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

Shooting as a pastime ‘saves NHS millions’

BASC’s first report on the natural capital benefits of shooting strengthen our case when it comes to fighting our corner, reckons Conor O’Gorman.

In March, BASC published the results of its inaugural assessment into the natural capital benefits of shooting. What, you might be asking, on earth is “natural capital”? Basically, it’s the sum of financial and social benefits we get from our natural environment. 

Yes, I know it sounds a bit sketchy, but it is a concept that has increasingly shaped both international and national environmental policies. And it is at the core of the Government’s England Environmental Improvement Plan and the forthcoming equivalent in Scotland. We thought that, rather than taking a cynical view of it all, it was best to get involved and find a place for shooting in the debate. 

With that in mind, last year BASC teamed up with Economics for the Environment Consultancy and Strutt & Parker, to research and produce a report on the natural capital benefits of shooting. The report was published in March and the findings focused on natural capital value of shooting for recreation (£607 million), carbon sequestration (£382 million), food and forestry (£100 million) and public health savings (£64 million). 

When shooting gets covered in the national media, it’s often on some negative aspect around raptor persecution or gun laws. So we were pleased that the Daily Telegraph featured the report findings, and the article headlined on public health savings with the caption “Countryside shoots save NHS millions”. 

Drawing on the report findings, the Telegraph reported that NHS and local authority budgets would be saved £64.3 million a year in public health costs, £37.6 million of which would come from the health benefits of removed air pollutants by woodland managed by shooting, and £20 million in physical care costs. There was a further saving of £6.7 million in mental health costs, on the basis that “the fitness and mental wellbeing of the average person shooting is higher than the average citizen”. 

The author, Henry Bodkin, a senior reporter for the Telegraph, explained that the NHS is increasingly embracing the concept of “social prescribing”, whereby activities — often ones outdoors — are prescribed to boost health via wellbeing. 

The NHS was asked to comment on whether it would consider prescribing shooting. There was no commitment on that front… yet. But it’s not completely pie in the sky because the Department of Health and Social Care has been looking into “green social prescribing”, which are GP referrals into nature-based interventions and activities that link people to natural environments. 

Carbon trading is big business, and the carbon market could soon exceed oil and gas. The capture, removal and storage of atmospheric carbon is believed to be critical to mitigating the impacts of climate change. So putting some values on the role of shooting in carbon storage is very relevant. 

Up until the BASC commissioned research, the carbon sequestration benefits of shooting’s management of land and species across woodland, wetland and saltmarsh had never been assessed and valued. The report valued shooting’s habitat creation and management work, alongside deer and grey squirrel management, at £382 million. 

BASC’s head of biodiversity, Ian Danby, has led the natural capital project and I asked him about putting that £382 million into context. “Our findings were that shooting captures around 1.44 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum,” he explained. “That’s more than nine times the 2020 carbon footprint of Formula 1.” 

Three millions days 

While the value of shooting to the UK economy (£2 billion) is not quite on the scale of Formula 1 (£6bn to 8bn), we get plenty of bang for our buck on the natural capital recreational value. That is because the recreational value generated by those who shoot or support shooting, such as beaters and pickers-up, comes in at £571.7 million from over three million days of activity spread across rural parts of the UK. Add in some public benefit figures of £35.9 million and that gives us a £607 million total. 

So lots of big figures for us to argue our case on the natural capital of shooting in our policy and political work, in the face of those who wish to undermine and restrict our interests and livelihoods.