What the Labour government have to say about shooting

Posted on the 20th November 2007

Labour’s official parliamentary spokesman for shooting and angling, Martin Salter, signalled the new post-Hunting Act mood when he wrote in Labour’s 2005 document, Charter for Shooting: ‘As a political party, we want to go much further then merely promising not to restrict shooting. We want to actively encourage people to take up the sports and to develop policies under which they can develop and prosper.’

The document included top-level endorsements. Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael wrote of shooting’s ‘massive environmental benefits’. Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw wrote in the Charter: ‘We will liberalise the outdated game shooting and licensing laws to boost the important contribution shooting makes to the rural economy.’ That promise was kept.

Alun Michael and Ben Bradshaw are in different posts now, but the government’s support for bird shooting is greater than ever. Salter, now ‘Centenary Patron’ for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), hosted a reception for the bloodsports lobby group at the 2007 Labour Party Conference. BASC reported on ministers’ speeches as follows:
‘Gerry Sutcliffe MP, the Minister for Sport, pledged that the Labour Party would continue to support shooting and fishing which he said played an important part in the lives of 5 million people in the UK. … Jonathan Shaw MP, the Minister for Rural Affairs, pledged the government to work with those who shoot and fish on the issues facing their sports.’

Another key bloodsports enthusiast in the government is Animal Welfare Minister, Jeff Rooker, who is charged with overseeing the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. He was reported in the Lancashire Telegraph as saying the following: ‘Grouse moor management is an excellent example of a sustainable form of farming, balancing grazing and careful heather burning.’

This upbeat assessment ignores the legal and illegal destruction – through trapping, shooting and poisoning – of a host of indigenous species that interfere with grouse shooting. It also ignores the damage caused by grouse shooting interests to the peat bogs that are an integral feature of the moorlands and act as natural carbon sinks. Adrian Yallop – co-author of a report that assessed damage to the peat bogs by grouse shooting interests – told the New Scientist magazine (12 August 2006) that ‘… gamekeepers are burning the moors at an unprecedented rate to encourage the growth of new heather shoots as feed for grouse. The burning threatens to release millions of tonnes of carbon locked into the peat bogs underpinning the moors. Where burning occurs, the hydrology changes and the peat is open to decomposition and erosion. This strips the moor of carbon as surely as setting fire to the Amazon Forest.’

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