I understand that many people have strongly held views about this subject. I too want to see a vibrant, working countryside enhanced by a diverse environment. While there are no current plans to carry out a review of the management of grouse moors, I believe it is vital that wildlife and habitats are respected and protected, and that the country’s conservation laws are observed, which are among the toughest in the world.
It is important to recognise, however, the conservation and economic benefits that shooting sports bring to rural communities. It is estimated that shooting as a whole is worth about £2 billion a year to the economy, much of it in some of our remotest communities, and supports thousands of jobs.
I know that one of the ways in which moorlands have been managed for grouse shooting is by burning vegetation. The Government have always been clear about the need to phase out rotational burning on protected blanket bog and to move to a regime of cutting. There is also established scientific consensus that burning of vegetation on such sites damages the environment in a variety of ways. The Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations came into force on 1st May banning the burning, without a licence, of specified vegetation on protected blanket bog habitats. This represents a crucial step in meeting the Government’s nature and climate change mitigation and adaptation targets, including the legally binding commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Finally, it is worth noting that all wild birds are protected from illegal killing by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Raptor persecution, including of hen harriers, is a national wildlife crime priority and there are strong penalties in place for offences committed against birds of prey, as well as other wildlife. I know that most wildlife crimes carry up to an unlimited fine and/or a six-month custodial sentence.
I am pleased that Ministers will continue to work to ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation.