Shooting and conservation

It was deeply disappointing to see Labour attacking grouse shooting when the new season began on 12th August. Doubtless they bagged a few headlines, but their campaign is seriously misplaced.

It is because of the sport that heather moorlands - an internationally important habitat - have been conserved. In fact, three quarters of the moorland which remains worldwide is in upland Britain.

The red grouse, a totally wild species, is unique to the UK and is only found on heather moorland. Some might say that this moorland should be managed without shooting.

But who would do this and why, and where would the resources come from? It is only because there is an income from grouse shooting that conservation measures such as bracken control can be funded.

This essential conservation activity benefits many other species. Where driven grouse shooting stopped in Wales, moors went into decline, and so too did species such as golden plover and curlew.

I’m species champion for the lapwing, and admire the work of the RSPB in conserving this beautiful bird. But in many parts of the country, including here in Sussex, it is the conservation work of shooting which has brought this red-listed species back.

It is no coincidence that 70 per cent of England’s upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest are managed grouse moors, and over 40 per cent are also designated as Special Protection Areas for rare birds and Special Areas of Conservation for rare vegetation, the highest designations under European wildlife directives.

Before taking aim at game shooting, politicians should take the trouble to understand the importance of the sport to wildlife and habitat conservation. I suspect Corbyn’s Labour Party has merely seen an opportunity to fight a misconceived class war.

They’re making a mistake. Millions of people take part in properly regulated country sports, and not just toffs, while millions of pounds are ploughed back into the rural economy.

I wonder how many of the politicians who joined in the criticism of grouse shooting will return to the House of Commons next month to eat chicken in the dining room. Do they really have the moral high ground?

If these politicians are genuinely worried about animal welfare or conservation, there are real issues to tackle, beginning with the existential threat to species worldwide such as elephants and tigers. Game shooting here is simply the wrong target.