Driven Grouse Shooting

Nick's speech in the Westminster Hall Debate


Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)

I beg to move, That this House has considered e-petitions 125003 and 164851 relating to driven grouse shooting.

It is a joy and great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Davies. I thank those who initiated the two e-petitions and all those who signed them, because they have provided us with the opportunity to debate driven grouse shooting today. As with all issues regarding animals, this one is highly emotive and draws out a lot of feeling. One of the things I have been surprised about since being elected is that I get far more emails about animals—be they bees, badgers, foxes, dogs, cats or now grouse—than I do about any issues relating to the welfare of people. Something in our national make-up certainly seems to be drawn out when it comes to animals.

The e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting has received more than 120,000 signatures. The petition states: “Grouse shooting for ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management which increases flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions,” and kills many mammals, such as “Foxes, Stoats, Mountain Hares…and…protected birds…including Hen Harriers.” The petition goes on to describe driven grouse shooting as “canned hunting”, which is “economically, ecologically and socially unnecessary.”

The other e-petition is in favour of protecting grouse moors and grouse shooting. It states: “Grouse moors…are an integral part of moorland management both for the grouse and other…wildlife such as lapwing and curlew”. According to the petition, grouse shooting helps to support local businesses, jobs and rural areas.

I have a keen interest in and concern for our traditional rural way of life, but I have never participated in grouse shooting and, as far as I am aware, I have no links or connections to anyone who has, although I will admit to eating a few grouse on occasion—I found them very tasty. I am opening this debate as a member of the Petitions Committee. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but since the petition was brought before the Committee it has been interesting to learn about the issues and listen to views from both sides. The Committee has received numerous written submissions and held an oral evidence session with representatives of those who wish to ban or control grouse shooting and those who support it.

Grouse shooting has existed in the UK for more than 160 years. It is governed by parliamentary legislation and European Union directives, and it is a devolved matter for the devolved regions of the UK. Red grouse are wild game birds that live in the uplands of the UK. In 2009, there were an estimated 230,000 pairs in the UK.


Sir Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con)

I am hesitant to interrupt such a superb speech, but my hon. Friend mentioned that one of the petitions used the word “canned”, which is surely extremely ignorant and misleading, because the birds are completely wild. Does he agree that there is no logic whatever in saying that driven grouse shooting should be somehow controlled, but that other forms of grouse shooting should not be? There is no logic there, because we are talking about a wild bird, not one that can be reared.


Steve Double

 I agree very much with both my hon. Friend’s points.

Red grouse are not found anywhere in the UK but uplands. They live in heather moorland and heather forms the staple part of their diet. Seventy-five per cent of global heather moorland is located in the UK, so in global terms heather moorland is rarer than the rain forest. Heather moorland comprises about 7% of the UK’s land mass, or some 6,500 square miles.

Grouse shooting comes in two forms: walked-up shooting, which involves groups of shooters who walk around a predetermined area and drive the grouse from the ground, and driven grouse shooting, which involves a group of beaters who scare the grouse from the ground towards a line of shooters. One of the petitions calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting, but as my hon. Friend said, it seems slightly illogical to wish to ban only one form of grouse shooting.

Clearly there are informed and strongly held views that grouse shooting is detrimental to our environment and wildlife. Concerns have been expressed about how the way in which the moors are managed contributes to flooding and is responsible for the destruction of other wildlife, including some of our national birds of prey in particular. I am aware that many other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate, so I will be unable to go into all the detail of the issues raised in the time available to me in opening, but I hope others will pick up on the other points. I will deal with what I see as the main issues.

One of the biggest questions, as I see it, is whether the management of grouse moors is good or bad for our environment. First, we have to look at moorland management and whether the moors must necessarily be managed. Moorland looks wild, but in fact it is a carefully managed environment. It is thanks to grouse shooting that over the past 30 years grouse moor managers in England have been responsible for the regeneration of more than 217,000 acres of heather moorland. The petition to ban mentions that such moorland is an important part of the ecosystem and local habitats, so one of the big questions to be asked is, if we were to ban grouse shooting, how would that important habitat otherwise be managed?


Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend. Does he agree that the question is not just how this moorland would e managed were grouse shooting to be banned, but whether it would exist at all or instead be given over to belts of conifers or grazed farmland? Surely the existence of the moorland is a reflection of grouse moor management over generations.


Steve Double

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point, which I will develop later in my speech, and I agree with him completely.

The management of the moorland for grouse provides the manpower to tackle invasive plants such as bracken and ragwort, along with saplings and shrubs of other species, and keeps the heather moorland clear. That level of intervention would not be viable without the grouse shooting industry. In England, grouse moor owners spend approximately £50 million every year on moorland management; in Scotland, the figure is more than £30 million. If grouse shooting were banned, where would the funds to manage the land come from?

Another concern expressed by those who wish to ban grouse shooting is that it causes flooding. I understand the logic of their argument: grouse moor management can increase the risk of flooding, because burning reduces the ability of the moor to absorb rainfall and run-off must therefore increase, leading to flooding further downstream. I suggest, however, that that is too simple a conclusion and that the issue is far more complex. Indeed, peatland restoration is known to help to slow the rate of water run-off. Ending moorland management as a result of banning grouse shooting might actually make flooding worse and more likely to happen. I am particularly interested in hearing the Minister’s views on that when she responds to the debate, because the issue is of great concern to those who live near such moors.

Another point worth making is that many areas of heather moorland are protected in their current state by their status as SSSIs—sites of special scientific interest. If the tens of millions of pounds of income from grouse shooting were to be lost, how would those protected landscapes be maintained in their current state without the cost falling on the taxpayer, something I simply could not support?


Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case. It seems to me that the opponents of shooting grouse want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because if we destroy grouse shooting, the raptors would lose their food source, local jobs would be lost and, as my hon. Friend is saying, the environment would be the poorer. The argument is not about conservation, but about destruction of the countryside.


You can read the full debate here: 

Nick Herbert