I took part in the Westminster Hall Debate on Grouse Shooting this afternoon. You can read my full contribution below:
For the record, I declare my membership of the all-party parliamentary group on shooting and conservation, although, like my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), I have never personally been grouse shooting.
The constituency of Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner has no grouse moors, but it is home to many people who have an interest in animal welfare and to a business that supports residents who enjoy shooting as a recreation, albeit with no live animals involved locally. As a consequence, I have had the opportunity hear from constituents on both sides of the debate today.
Humans have shaped our environment enormously over many centuries. As a consequence, all of us living today have a responsibility to protect and enhance our environment whether or not we approve of what previous generations did or of what future generations might have planned for it. Whether our moorlands or many of our fishing rivers, our natural environment has been shaped by human activity over generations. The biodiversity around us today is a result of those actions.
One of the issues cited most often is that of heather burning. That habitat management is required if we want the habitat to continue to prosper. There are clearly two major benefits from the burning. First, it promotes the new growth of heather and grass, which supports a wide range of wildlife in addition to grouse, including curlew, lapwing and golden plover, as well as deer and hares.
Even more important from a human perspective is the prevention of wildfires, as a number of Members have mentioned. Back in 2003, for example, a wildfire on the National Trust’s Bleaklow destroyed more than 2,000 acres of rare habitat and all the heather on the neighbouring 2,500-acre moor. The sad reality is that the CO2 levels—a climate change issue—being released from wildfires has increased dramatically in the last five years. If we want to prevent and reduce those emissions, controlled firebreaks are a necessary part of our toolkit. The practice has many different names depending on where we are in the country, but the idea behind prescribed burning is that it is a quick burn that removes the canopy and does not affect the underlying peat or soil layer that is so important to the biodiversity of our environment.
The other theme running through the debate is our feelings about animal welfare-related issues and the distaste that many people feel about the idea of killing live creatures for fun. Although I share that sentiment, I also recognise that in the UK and throughout the world, different forms of hunting are not just an essential part of good husbandry of nature; they also underpin the funding that enables conservation and biodiversity efforts to proceed, both in the United Kingdom and across the world. Where we humans have created an ecosystem, we have a responsibility to manage it. Those who are proposing bans on the actions that they personally dislike need also to consider who will undertake and pay for the husbandry of those animal populations, so that familiar problems such as parasite infections and out-of-control predation do not simply replace one unpleasant fate with another.
Put bluntly, the ecosystem that we have created requires the management of animal numbers. In my view, it is much better to do that in a way that supports the economy of that ecosystem so that animals killed with a purpose are being eaten, contributing to the conservation and welfare of that animal population, rather than abdicating our responsibilities to the detriment of biodiversity and animal welfare at home and aboard.
To conclude, we need to consider the net effect of our decisions on our environment. It seems clear to me that the proposed ban is likely to produce a net disadvantage to our environment and our biodiversity, and must therefore be opposed.