Talking Politics: Joining the debate on grouse shooting ban

"I don't think banning driven grouse shooting is the answer."
"I don't think banning driven grouse shooting is the answer."

Many people will be aware of the opinion that one of the big factors which contributed to the horrendous flooding in the Calder Valley at Christmas was the Grouse Moor on the Walshaw Estate above Hebden Bridge.

Earlier this week, there was a Parliamentary debate on banning grouse shooting and before preparing my speech, I thought I needed to visit the estate to consider what influence it actually has upon the risk of flooding.

I quickly realised that the petition and much of the information peddled around the Calder Valley about the estate, is, in many cases, simply untrue.

The nonsense that people are led to believe could not be further from the truth and it is time to put the record straight.

Does the estate ‘slash and burn’ as suggested by some? No, it does not. It does however use ‘cool burning’.

The estate works in partnership with Natural England and Yorkshire Water and everything they do is done under licence and is strictly controlled so that no area is burnt out of cycle.

So does this contribute to increased peak flows of water? Common sense would tell you that it does.

A study has been completed by Durham University which was commissioned by Treesponsibility in the Calder Valley. Although the study shows that burning does indeed have an impact, its methodology is so inherently flawed by a number of omissions and inaccurate assumptions that it is of very limited value.

In my speech in Parliament I mentioned the significant impact that properly managing the level of reservoirs can have. A huge proportion of the water on the moorlands runs through the six reservoirs on and around the estate which are managed by Yorkshire Water.

Interestingly, Yorkshire Water have ensured that the reservoir levels are kept much lower coming into winter this year compared with previous years.

Unlike the illegal fires that are started every year around the Calder Valley (West Yorkshire Fire Brigade has attended 249 fires which have been started illegally on moorland over the last seven years), the fires on the Walshaw Estate are well managed in small, selective areas through ‘cool burning’.

As a result of a variety of factors including the use of cool burning, mechanical cutting, and planting mixtures of new seeds of heather, we have seen a huge influx of bird species onto the moor. Golden Plover, Merlin, Curlew and Hen Harriers, to name a few, have all returned to Walshaw over the last decade and I was fortunate enough to see several of these species on my visit.

This is evidence that, contrary to the petition which states that grouse shooting exterminates wildlife, the careful custodianship of our moorlands is actually supporting and encouraging wildlife in a way that we haven’t seen previously.

Finally, it is worth drawing attention to the very substantial cost of the restoration work and moorland maintenance. Not having these programmes in place would result in the moors declining at ever increasing rate.

So where do we go from here?

Like organisations such as the RSPB, I don’t think that banning driven grouse shooting is the answer.

Similarly, I’m not convinced that burning is needed to the extent that we hear about, although on the Walshaw Estate this only equates to approximately two per cent of the total acreage each year.

I understand that there is machinery available which can access hard to reach areas and thus which reduces the need to burn.

At the very least, I believe that a reduction in the scale of burning could be achieved.

However, politicians aren’t the ones to suggest and impose solutions – this is something that experts within the field of conservation and moorland management should determine.

What we cannot allow is for the debate to be conducted on ideological lines, as we saw with fox hunting (which I oppose for the record), as the loser here would be our moorland.

If the current owners of our moors didn’t carry out the scale of restoration work that they do, our moorlands would be in a significantly worse condition.

I don’t think banning driven grouse shooting is the answer. In fact this would be a sledge hammer to crack a nut, and so far as flood measures goes, would actually be detrimental.

I think common sense, not ideology, should prevail.