Guest blog: Les Wallace – petition to assess economic value of driven grouse shooting

The following is a guest blog contributed by Les Wallace, whose Westminster petition (‘An independent study to find if driven grouse shooting is of economic benefit’) is due to close on 2 February 2019.

So far his petition has attracted 4,166 signatures. DEFRA will have to respond if the petition reaches 10,000 signatures.

NOTE: Les’s petition relates to driven grouse shooting economics in England and Wales. The Scottish Government is already assessing the economic value of driven grouse shooting in Scotland, the results of which will be fed in to the Werritty Review, due to report this spring.

There’s now less than a month until Gov.UK Petition 226109 ‘An Independent Study to Find if Driven Grouse Shooting is of Economic Benefit’ closes on the 2nd of February. If the petition can reach the 10,000 signature mark by that time the Westminster Government will be required to make an official response which is potentially a very interesting development indeed. When the previous petitions to ban driven grouse shooting from Mark Avery and Gavin Gamble reached the same point the government response typically included references to the supposed contribution driven grouse shooting makes to the economies and jobs available to fragile rural communities. However, with this petition they will need to provide proof of that in the response if they wish to deny the need for a comprehensive study – frankly they won’t be able to. What were the original claims based on – wishful thinking, the word of vested interests? There’s scope here for some significant political embarrassment given the amount of public money that’s been given and sycophantic support from MPs as seen at the parliamentary ‘debate’ on the 31st October 2016 after Mark Avery’s petition to ban DGS hit 123,000 signatures.

The core issue is not how many jobs DGS provides, but how many it drives away – what other activities and associated business opportunities are incompatible with both the extensive area and intensive ‘management’ for DGS? The answer is virtually all of them, a hell of a bloody lot. Every form of forestry including wood lots to provide those without access to mains gas cheaper fuel, natural flood alleviation projects involving riparian woodland and the return of the beaver, then there’s fully fledged eco tourism, wildlife photography courses, conservation working holidays, pony trekking etc, etc. It’s only because the grouse moors have been there so long, often for generations, most of us find it difficult to visualize what could and should be there instead that rural communities haven’t risen up and demanded change themselves. Looking at it from another perspective there should be no technical reason why driven grouse shooting couldn’t be developed in Norway with their subspecies of the willow grouse – but it’s never going to happen. Doing so would massively impoverish and restrict the rural communities there – loss of valuable woodlot forestry, restricted and less pleasant walking and camping, plus the loss of the type of hunting Norwegians do already, for eating rather than trophies http://archnetwork.org/grouse-surveys-in-norway-and-scotland-2017/. There is a reason that Norway and the other countries that could have DGS don’t and never will.

Of course if the proponents of DGS are confident their claims it’s a lifeline for fragile communities are strong an independent and comprehensive government led economic study they should be welcomed with enthusiasm, their own efforts to justify their economic value haven’t been highly respected. Not unexpectedly they haven’t highlighted the petition and that’s something I have to confess I’ve exploited ruthlessly and gleefully (e.g. here). Even since the petition began there’s been a significant change in the tone of anti grouse moor campaigning – now their worth for rural communities is being publicly and repeatedly questioned. A few days after the petition opened Labour MP Sue Hayman called for a full study of grouse moors including the so called economics, since then more Labour MPs including Alex Sobel have made their objections known and the campaign to end grouse shooting on Yorkshire Waters properties is using the displacement of better job creating activities a core element of its attack. This includes promoting a type of clay pigeon shooting that replicates a flight of grouse! It looks as if it has potential, and can be done 12 months a year rather than 4. And of course up in Scotland Revive: the Coalition for Grouse Moor Reform has been launched with a bang publishing material to both sledgehammer the ludicrously inflated economic claims for grouse shooting and a start on the road to what can replace it. Underlining all of this of course is the the fact that the latest grouse shooting season was a ‘poor’ one with many estates not shooting at all – hotels and other businesses have lost money because they’ve found themselves tied to grouse chick productivity. The shooting estates still make their claims, but they ring increasingly hollow now and risk drawing attention to their opponents’ counter claims.

That the Westminster Government has unlike the Scottish one not already commissioned comprehensive studies on grouse shooting including its true economics does at least help the petition in that full attention can be focused upon the Achilles Heel issue that DGS kills rural communities as well as wildlife. You can get away with illegally killing raptors and slaughtering mountain hares as long as enough people believe families will be out on the street without it, but if the truth comes home they’ve had it. This is a golden opportunity to make a point, but the time to get to the 10,000 mark is shrinking.

Can I please ask each and every one of you to sign, share and promote the petition if you haven’t done so and if you can think of any organisations that should push the petition please pester them to do so (although I’ll have probably been there before). The RSPB officially endorsed it on their Skydancer Community Blog, but without giving it more profile that won’t help raise many signatures, although the endorsement was highly appreciated and I’m very grateful for it. Several people and groups have been very supportive and deserve thanks – Mark Avery (of course), Alan Cranston, James Common, Terry Pickford, Let’s Get Mad for Wildlife, the greatest living Welshman Iolo Williams (Diolch Iolo!), and many others who’ve been great. A special mention has to be made of the now late and very sadly missed Al Woodcock who founded the ‘We Support Chris Packham’ facebook page, he was not a frequent contributor on RPUK, but did a massive amount of work against the bad uns.

A slightly late Happy New Year to all and a pre emptive thank you, lets give the grouse moors a sticky start to 2019 – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/226109


21 Responses to “Guest blog: Les Wallace – petition to assess economic value of driven grouse shooting”

  1. 1 Ian Parsons
    January 11, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Les, Wasn’t aware of this petition, I have duly signed it and will post a link to it on Twitter too, hopefully more people reading this will do the same.

  2. 2 Graham Barlow
    January 11, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Any effort to end driven grouse shooting is welcome but there are anti dgs groups who feel that this petition, if successful, would be defeated by the specious arguments of Anderson, Gilruth et al and many years would pass while evidence was gathered.
    As you say Revive has already put forward a document showing that dgs is the worst possible use of our uplands in Scotland. Shouldn’t this be used to lobby our decision makers.

    2018 has been a good year for anti dgs. Lobbying our mp’s, utility companies and the national trust is bringing change.
    Yorkshire Water have been telling us for years that they can’t remove the shooting tenants on their thirteen grouse moors until 2033. Last month, after a shot owl was found stuffed into a wall on one of their grouse moors, they have stated that the shooting licence will be removed if evidence is forthcoming.

    • 3 Les Wallace
      January 11, 2019 at 3:27 pm

      Well then there are anti dgs groups that aren’t being very sensible – since when have Gilruth and buddies not been making specious claims about each and everything, and each and every time we need to challenge it. Can you indicate what groups are because they’ve said nothing to me. A proper economic study would compliment the work of Revive and seriously scare the proponents of dgs, which is why they haven’t dared mention the petition far less push for an independent study which they’d welcome if they believed their own claims and wanted to give them official validity. Not supporting the petition will only help the grouse moors and it’s because our side has neglected properly fighting their phony jobs claims for far too long that that’s meant more than anything else they’re still in business – if enough people truly believe banning dgs means families in the street, closed schools and dying communities then the grouse moors will just keep killing as many raptors as they like, and giving two fingers to anyone who is disgusted by piles of dead mountain hares, isn’t that exactly what’s been happening?

      • 4 AlanTwo
        January 11, 2019 at 4:59 pm

        Les – I’ve signed your petition and I absolutely support your efforts. However, I do see the point Graham is making.
        It all depends how confident you are that a study commissioned by the present Westminster government would be independent and fair. If the study was completed in a timely fashion and came to conclusions consistent with the Revive study, then it would be of enormous value to the ban DGS cause. On the other hand, if it dragged on for years and finally concluded that DGS was indeed a lifeline for fragile rural communities, then it could sink the anti-DGS movement for a generation.
        The shooters and their wealthy, influential cronies (including senior figures and donors in the Tory party) will be well aware of the importance of the outcome of the study, and will use all their money and contacts to influence the findings.
        So there could be a lot at risk, and it all comes down to: ‘Do you feel lucky?’

        • 5 Les Wallace
          January 11, 2019 at 6:33 pm

          Alan if the study was anything less than a rigourous, independent and objective study then it would be open to intense criticism as have the various reports produced by the shooting sector to justify itself economically. The League Against Cruel Sports has absolutely hammered them. There’s no need for such a study to drag on for years if it did then that’s something that can be highlighted too. The amount of jiggery Pokery that would have to be used in the report to make dgs look like a genuine contributor to the rural economy would render anyone associated with its production an absolute laughing stock. Imagine what Revive has done already to obliterate the economic case for grouse moors, but this time from a fully independent source that their proponents couldn’t claim (falsely) is biased and untrustworthy. The idea that the fight against dgs would be lost for a generation even if a dodgy report was published is ludicrous, the fight has actually lasted this long because we, to our enormous discredit, have neglected this issue. The cronies will try to stop a proper study, a rigged one will just be them making more rope to hang themselves with. A bit more intellectual rigour and backbone wouldn’t go amiss, hand wringing we’ve had enough of.

        • 6 Allan Withrington
          January 11, 2019 at 6:39 pm

          It is not a case of ‘do we feel lucky’ !!.
          It is a case of getting things done that have not been done before because folk like you and the critic before you haven’t got the courage of their convictions and would rather negatively criticise than whole-heatedly support people like Les who are willing to try to do something about the situation.
          Put up or shut up.
          Well done Les I have signed up and am in process of persuading others to do the same.

          • 7 AlanTwo
            January 11, 2019 at 7:26 pm

            Maybe I’ve misjudged this, but my guess is that a report commissioned by government will carry far more weight, for good or ill, than any study from the shooters themselves of from Revive, or any other interest group. As such, it would be pretty much immune from criticism by the LACS or anyone else, other than another report of equal standing.
            All I’m saying is that there is a lot at stake here, and if the report were to find against us it would be a major setback. There’s a touch of ‘s**t or bust’ about it – a brave, but possibly foolhardy strategy.
            It’s also got nothing to do with having the courage of one’s convictions – it’s just acknowledging that government reports in the past have not always concluded what I was certain they had to.
            As an example, a well-respected journalist attended every single day of the Chilcot enquiry into the Iraq war, and was very impressed by the way it was conducted. But when the report finally emerged, he felt he must have been sitting in a different room from whoever wrote the report – it bore little relation to the evidence he had listened to. He concluded it had been watered down before publication by senior people with a lot to lose. Other reports, of course, have been ‘sexed up’. And then there’s Leveson…
            I hope your faith in the integrity of our political masters proves to be well placed!

            • 8 Les Wallace
              January 11, 2019 at 8:45 pm

              It’s not faith in political masters – your putting words in my mouth, it’s faith in the overwhelming strength of the bare facts and believe it or not faith in the ability of Mark Avery, RPUK, Revive and all the others ranged against DGS to tear absolute lumps out of any substandard, biased report as they’ve done with others already produced by the shooting fraternity, their pals in parliament will hardly produce anything better. NOT pushing for the study will hold us back, if getting a dodgy report written was that easy wouldn’t they have pushed for one themselves ages ago? J K Rowling couldn’t write something that would make dgs a valid economic enterprise for rural communities and it would take a fantasy author to do so. Bit less melodrama about losing fights for a generation and more common sense and observation of the actual situation I think.

              • 9 lizzybusy
                January 11, 2019 at 10:04 pm

                Les – thanks for the petition and all your hard work on this issue. I wish you’d received more support. Getting the big NGOs on board campaigns can be hard but I guess they get approached about loads of issues. Take care.

              • 10 AlanTwo
                January 11, 2019 at 10:26 pm

                I won’t prolong our spat any longer, except to say that it’s precisely because I do have faith in Avery, Tingay et al. that I’m nervous about this. I actually think that we/they are winning this argument, slowly but surely. When you’re grinding your way towards victory, the important thing is not to do anything rash that might cock things up; it’s when you’re facing defeat that it makes more sense to take a risky punt.
                But I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.

                • 11 Les Wallace
                  January 12, 2019 at 6:30 pm

                  Alan you are doing both me and all the people who’ve supported this petition a great disservice by suggesting there’s anything rash about this, you’re not doing yourself any favours either by suggesting this has been a risky enterprise when it actual fact it’s probably been a complimentary element (at least it’s not held it back!) in our side starting to challenge theirs on the economic damage caused by DGS. This a very, very new development and an extremely important one, a crucial one. As recently as 2016 with the parliamentary hearing and ‘debate’ that resulted from Mark’s petition to ban DGS getting more than 123,000 signatures again and again they used the rural jobs blackmail gambit. Watch them at it. I didn’t want to be the petitioner this time after I set up the Scotgov one, I just couldn’t get anyone else to take it on so knew there was no alternative to doing it myself, but I knew it had to be done. It was pathetic that they were bringing US down on the jobs issue when it was THEM that were obviously driving employment away – that’s why they haven’t been able to even mention there’s a Gov.UK petition to get a proper study done, it will show they’ve been talking crap and they know it. If there is going to be a change there will HAVE to be a government review to quantify and direct it anyway – what exactly is the current situation and how and what should we change it to. You’re entitled to your opinion Alan as am I and mine is that all too often there just has to be somebody whose going to be a contrarian.

                • 12 AlanTwo
                  January 13, 2019 at 1:34 pm

                  I hadn’t intended to say any more on this, but since you’ve come back (and made it a bit personal), I’ll respond one more time.
                  Maybe I’ve been traumatised by the Westminster ‘debate’, but I just can’t understand your total confidence that a review instigated by this government would come to the conclusions you’re hoping for. Put yourself in Therese Coffey’s shoes. Who are you going to appoint to oversee the review process (not necessarily be its mouthpiece). Mark Avery? A senior figure from the LACS? No – much more likely she’ll opt for one of the Tory clowns who spoke in the debate, and probably get one of their shooting lawyer friends to chair it. Will you give it a large budget, so it can do lots of original research, gather masses of new evidence and really get to the bottom of the issue? No, you’d run it on a shoestring, so the easy and cheap option is to work on shooting industry figures and the opinions of local Tory MP’s from grouse shooting areas. If, in spite of all this, it finds against grouse shooting, will you publish it at once and shout it from the rooftops? No, you’ll bury it for years and sneak it out when nobody is listening.
                  And I can’t understand how anyone can think that there can’t possibly be a downside to this petition. I would argue there is one already. Mark Avery got 120,000 signatures, but his case was pilloried in the Westminster ‘debate’ largely on the economic issue. Now there’s a petition calling for a proper look at the economics – and so far it’s attracted only 4000 signatures. Which side looks scared of the economic issue now? If I were Botham (or one of his puppeteers), I’d be straight on to that.
                  Petitions can be a great catalyst and rallying tool, but they need to be thought through very carefully, always mindful of unintended consequences.
                  My last word is to repeat that I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.

          • 13 Les Wallace
            January 11, 2019 at 7:40 pm

            Thanks for the support moral and otherwise.

    • 14 Aan
      January 12, 2019 at 4:23 pm

      I won’t repeat Les’s counter-arguments, however these’ anti-dgs groups’ seem to me to miss the point entirely. Les might disagree, bu this petition was never going to get to 100,000, nor is a study of this kind, instigated by or near to Westminster, ever going to happen any time soon. So the ‘anti-dgs groups’ arguments fail at the first hurdle. Les petitioned the Scottish Government successfully some time back and there is the Scottish government’s economic study to come as well as the excellent Revive work. But Westminster is different. A UK government response, were the petition to reach 10,000 would be quite tricky to draft. It would have to say why a study was not needed when there is no proper evidence, and would probably just recycle the discredited nonsense from the shooters. It would loock weak and out of touch. That’s a small victory perhaps but there is no downside. As such it would just add a little bit to the ratchet gradually tightening around this doomed ‘sport’.

  3. 16 Paul Fisher
    January 11, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    Since this petition should be being strongly promoted by ALL sides, it is very odd that it is floundering around the 4K mark.
    No mention in Natures Home, nothing from the wildlife trusts, still nothing from LACS. Maybe there is something in the title that is off putting to people but I can’t see how it could have been worded differently.
    I would have thought that 10k would have been an easy target to hit.

    Having said all that, maybe the fact that the shooters haven’t promoted it can be used to our advantage in the future.

    • 17 Les Wallace
      January 11, 2019 at 8:11 pm

      All the petition asks for is a study to determine if something which receives public money is entitled to. There can be absolutely no legitimate objections to that, so there was a perfect opportunity for NGOs to push the petition after all it potentially could lead to better answers for rural communities, shouldn’t even the grouse moors want that? The lack of support is disappointing. There wasn’t a tremendous point in the RSPB endorsing the petition on the Skydancer Community blog and nowhere else, I suspect there are hundreds of its staff members who would sign, but still don’t know about it. RSBP members aren’t the best at supporting things like this, but with 1.2 million of them it still should have been possible to get a few thousand signatures. LACS in England have been woeful, and quite a few other organisations could have done more. All the more frustrating as some people have been fantastic and I feel they’re being let down too. The timing of the petition has been incredibly lucky, the lack of widespread support infernally unlucky. Still time and maybe the urgency in closure approaching will tweak a few consciences.

  4. 18 Chris Barber
    January 11, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    I have just signed too. I don’t wish to see grouse shooting banned completely, but I do agree it’s current stranglehold on the perceived economic benefits needs to be challenged. I think it can have a part to play in the rural economic strategies, but it needs to be better (more sensitively) managed. The feasability of other complementary land uses and economic opportunities would be a valuable step forward. Grouse shooting should also have the opportunity to adapt and evolve as a part of this process, or not, if it proves to be incompatible. Local and regional variations in land use should be the final deciding factor.

    I suspect most here will already be of the opinion that DGS is incompatible with other land uses, but I don’t think any alternative should be just dismissed out of hand. I would like to think such a study will take that into account too.

  5. January 11, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    First, thanks RPUK for hosting this guest blog which highlights some important issues as well as a reasonable petition.
    I’ve signed then petition, which should not contravene the interests of for instance, any organisation members of Wildlife and Countryside Link in England and Scottish Environment Link, including, again for instance the RSPB.
    Mark Avery gave Les an opportunity to provide a guest blog on his website.
    How have any of the Link members handled this, and other petitions relevant to Link members?
    I could be wrong, but I believe that it is with total silence.
    I was given an opportunity by my local RSPB group leader to talk for a couple of minutes about my interest, armchair activism, suitable for primary schoolchildren interested in the environment upwards to my advanced years. Nothing any environmental NGO could find contravenes their interests, but I’d be happy to discuss how this could be addressed if any NGO were interested.
    As others here have mentioned, petitions such as this should be advertised to the campaigning members of the organisations in the Link groups as a matter of course, and probably to the whole memberships by their newsletters etc. .
    I hear about some consultations, am asked to write to my (non environmentally aware) MP, but nothing other than making myself more environmentally aware by helping wildlife. It’s not enough, is it?
    Were NGOs willing to talk to petitioners, or activists with the same interests as the NGOs, we could be reaching 100,000 with every well thought out petition. My petition reached 365 signatures, but in Scotland that is enough to get a hearing.
    The situation could so easily change if the LINK NGOs extracted the digit and we could harness the power of social media on the back of their blessing with suitable campaigns.

  6. 20 Gerard
    January 13, 2019 at 11:56 pm

    Already signed it, apparently. I will post iton Twitter and Facebook though.

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