Driven Grouse Debate October 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding driven grouse shooting.

I know that many people are concerned about the impact grouse shooting has on protected birds of prey, such as the hen harrier, as well as on the environment more generally. Indeed, over 123,000 people have signed the petition on the UK Parliament website calling for driven grouse shooting to be banned. I know that the League Against Cruel Sports is supporting the petition. I also note that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is calling for the introduction of a licensing scheme for grouse shooting.

I appreciate the concerns that are widely held about this issue and at the 2015 general election, I stood on a manifesto which included a commitment to deal with the wildlife crime associated with shooting. I am concerned that birds of prey are intensively persecuted, and that iconic birds such as the hen harrier are in danger of being lost as a breeding species in England. I believe that more must be done to protect these birds and to reduce the suffering of animals on shooting estates.

In January 2016, the Government published its plan to increase the hen harrier population. However, in July the RSPB withdrew its support for the plan, arguing that its voluntary approach has failed. The RSPB points in particular to the role of the illegal killing of hen harriers to prevent them preying on grouse. I believe we need an independent review on how to end the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

I also share people's concerns at the impact of grouse shooting on flood risk. I note, for example, research that shows that the burning of heather to improve grouse moors reduces the land's retention of water. The clearing of land for grouse shooting was also identified as one of the sources of the flooding we saw over Christmas 2015. This land clearing has little public benefit and I believe the Government needs to take a stronger stance on it.

I know that there are also concerns about the impact of the lead ammunition used for shooting. In 2010, the then Labour Government established the Lead Ammunition Group (LAG) to examine the impacts of lead ammunition on the health of wildlife and those who consume game birds. In June 2015, the LAG published its report, which found that lead ammunition causes harm to wildlife and significant health risks to consumers of game. However, the Government did not respond to the report until July of this year. Despite the LAG's finding and the availability of safer alternatives to lead ammunition, it rejected the LAG's recommendation to ban the use of lead ammunition.

Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views. As you are aware, there is a debate taking place in Westminster Hall on 31 October 2016 about driven grouse shooting. I am pleased that Parliament will be given the opportunity to debate these issues further. I can assure you that I will be following developments closely and will continue to bear in mind the points you raise.