MPs ‘debate’ Driven Grouse Shooting

This post was updated on 4th November.

Yesterday MPs met to discuss the petition started by Mark Avery to ban driven grouse shooting, and another far smaller petition in support of grouse shooting. By categorically failing to recognise that there are any issues at all that need addressing in our uplands, the debate will further polarise an already contentious issue.

It was a debate that felt about a hundred years behind the times, in which wealthy, powerful people leaned on their friendly, powerful conservative MP friends to stymie debate and protect their interests. The evening was an exercise in whitewashing which deprived the British public of a nuanced, intelligent debate on a hugely divisive issue. 

Conservative MPs were tripping over each other to give the highest possible praise to grouse shooters and the gamekeepers who manage their land (‘the unsung heroes of conservation’). They completely ignored or willfully misunderstood the grievances of the 123,077 people who signed Avery’s petition. Briefed by the Moorland Association, GWCT and BASC, Conservative speakers lined up to make four main points:

  • The effects of muirburn on exacerbating flooding has been recklessly overstated.
  • Ground nesting birds need gamekeepers and heather moorland to exist. Apparently hen harriers would go extinct if it weren’t for all the grouse moors that they are not breeding on.
  • If there wasn’t grouse shooting there would be something else on the moors, and whatever it was it would definitely be worse.
  • Grouse shooting makes some money, and this is a good thing (but no consensus was reached on exactly how much money it made).It’s not just toffs who enjoy grouse shooting. Well it is, but those toffs employ some people, and that’s a good thing.
Toffs employing people

Toffs employing people

It was a well rehearsed, polished performance. However, the speakers ignored the rampant illegal persecution of birds of prey, failed to distinguish between dry heath and blanket bog, ignored the question of carbon emissions, ignored the fact that moor management has intensified markedly in the last fifteen years, ignored the concerns about public money being spent on a private hobby, and wilfully misunderstood the RSPB’s position (the RSPB would like to see licensing introduced rather than an all-out ban). They made a false correlation between private ownership and wildlife conservation. They recklessly conflated driven grouse shooting with walked up grouse shooting. Two speakers even conflated driven grouse shooting with all game shooting, brazenly ‘forgetting’ the subject of the debate itself.

Most irritatingly, the arguments completely belittled the petitioners, defining them at best as naive, deluded citizens ‘tricked’ into signing a petition by nasty, ‘politically motivated’ extremists, and at worst as politically motivated extremists themselves. At one point the term ‘countryside tourists’ was used. Personal attacks were launched on both Mark Avery and Chris Packham, both of whom have campaigned to ban driven grouse shooting.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties were nowhere to be seen. Few Labour MPs turned up. They were represented by Kerry McCarthy and Angela Smith, both of whom spoke passionately and eloquently in the face of what was, essentially, a braying mob, alongside shadow environment minister Rachael Maskell. There were no representatives from the Lib Dems. With no real opposition, there was no balance.

It is perhaps worth noting here the extreme gender bias in the debate. Few women spoke in the debate. Kerry McArthy defended the petition, Angela Smith broadly supported reform, and Therese Coffey, DEFRA minister, trotted out the Conservative party line. No male supporters of the petition made a speech.

The debate descended into farce when one Scottish MP asked for a moral rather than economic argument for driven grouse shooting. The house simply laughed at him.

Ultimately one wonders how far this debate will go towards undermining the positions of both the Driven Grouse lobby and the MPs who support them. For fence-sitters like myself, who would rather not see a ban imposed, it is getting harder and harder to defend an industry that shows a blatant disregard for the general public, is propped up by both big money and public money, employs a PR company to do its dirty work and can rely on the support of their friends in the Conservative party when its pack is against the wall.

History will not look kindly on those who spoke at yesterday’s debate. Democracy was at work, but it wasn’t pretty.

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Andy Painting

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8 Responses

  1. Nigel says:


    This was sent to my MP in June, this was forwarded to DEFRA. Read it then explain to everyone how you feel Tory MPs have got it all wrong concerning the types of folks organising the petitions and voting?

  2. Andy Painting says:

    Hi Nigel,

    It’s an interesting document. Where was it originally published?

    Also, I’m just going to leave this here:

  3. Tim says:

    According to Wikipedia

    “The hen harrier is a bird of open habitats such as heather moorland and extensive agriculture. However, much of its range, particularly in Ireland and parts of western Britain, has been (and continues to be) afforested, predominantly with non-native conifers such as Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) from North America.”

    If this is truly the case then perhaps the Forestry Commission who have afforested our uplands have something to answer for regarding decline of the Hen Harrier in the UK?

  4. Andy Painting says:

    Hi Tim,

    You raise a good point. At no point did I say in my article that there was a single reason for declining hen harrier populations – I merely pointed out a major one which was largely ignored in Monday’s debate.

    I would also say that I have surveyed several hen harrier nest sites in my time, and a couple of them were in clear-felled forestry plantations. In those two instances (and I can’t speak for any more than that) they actually provided pretty good cover and plenty of food for them.

    As I said in my article, I don’t want to see a ban imposed, but I am finding it harder and harder to defend driven grouse shooting. The fact that real debate did not occur can only be bad for the shooting industry in the long term.

  5. Tim says:

    Hi Andy,

    I agree that there needs to be a much broader discussion on this issue.

    Perhaps Mark Avery and Chris Packham have muddied the waters on this by making driven grouse shooting with its overtones of class warfare the focus of attention rather than looking at the management of our uplands as a whole.

    Over stocking with both domestic and wild large herbivores has had an impact and as I alluded too before afforestation with alien conifer species by the Forestry Commission appears to have been detrimental to moorland species such as the Hen Harrier.

    Rather than thinking purely in terms of banning or licensing driven grouse shooting the whole issue of wildlife management in the UK needs to be addressed, not just on private land but also those areas of public land managed by civil service departments and land held by conservation charities such as the RSPB.

  6. Daniella Rabaiotti says:

    There are a number of mistakes in this blog – 7 of the MPs who spoke were not conservative. There was an SNP MP present. And finally there were 3 Labour MPs who were present, including shadow environment minister Rachael Maskell.

  7. Andy Painting says:

    Hi Daniella,

    Thanks for pointing those out. I’ve updated the blog accordingly.

  8. Gillian Kilroy says:

    Why do people like Nigel include articles that i clude comments that fox hunting is necessary to,protect livestock when it,has been categorically proved that Hunts BREED foxes to chase and kill. TErrier men Have been filmed stuffing a fox down an artificial earth to be released at the ‘right time’, fox cubs thrown i to a hounds kennels to be mauled,to death, and so on and so on? What has that got,to do with ‘protecting livestock” fgs??

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