Report on a Countryside Forum webinar held online on May 13, 2021
1 Political reports
The European and International report by Ian Bell (BASC) and the Parliament report by Christopher Graffius (BASC) were tabled in advance of the meeting and are circulated separately. There was then an update on shooting issues followed by a series of presentations on the topic: ‘Is countryside policy increasingly, and disproportionately, being influenced by single issue pressure groups?’
2 Update on shooting issues
Liam Stokes (CEO, British Game Alliance), said that the single biggest issue in (game) shooting had been Coronavirus and its ongoing repercussions. Some 60% of the number of birds that would normally be released were released in 2020, but there had been a considerable reduction in shoot days. Estimated lost income across the sector was £150m. There was considerable supressed demand which was being realised in increased orders, and shooting should be buoyant in 2021-2. There was, however a current cashflow problem. Medium sized game farmers in particular were struggling. Larger ones had adopted economies of scale and there were more birds being reared on shoots. Game farming was expected to be 20% down. There had been uncertainty caused by the 5 year lead phase-out, with the UK REACH process only 2 years away. Confusion had been sown by end users wanting to source lead-free game and the decision by the National Game Dealers Association to require game shot with non-lead ammunition from 2022 was having a “seismic impact.” Shoots needed help to understand what that meant. In Scotland the re-election of an SNP Government with Green support renewed the threat of licencing of grouse shoots. In Wales the Labour Party were adopting anti-shooting and snaring measures, and registering shoots was one step away from licensing them. There were issues in England about the forthcoming Animal Welfare Bill and around lead, hares and snaring.
3 Is countryside policy increasingly, and disproportionately, being influenced by single issue pressure groups? – Mark Tufnell, Deputy President, CLA
Single issue pressure groups are now lobbying on a much wider range of issues than in the past. Mark pointed out that CLA, CPRE and the Ramblers Association were once single issue pressure groups, but all now had a much wider remit. Extinction Rebellion, a wider pressure group, had not achieved a huge amount, and had not managed to bring political change. Veganism, however, could have a significant change on how the countryside looks. Mark spoke of the rise of social media campaigns which could be brought together more quickly, but it was his view that in a lot of cases, Government policy had not been changed. Organisations that had moved from single issue campaigning to wider lobbying, such as the Countryside Alliance, had been more effective.
4 Is countryside policy increasingly, and disproportionately, being influenced by single issue pressure groups? – Liam Stokes, British Game Alliance
Liam’s opinion was that a lot of activity in the countryside is being driven by single issue pressure groups. Officials at Defra engage with them, while pro-shooting groups were not having a major effect. Those who dealt with the working countryside (i.e. farming , shooting, gamekeeping groups) were dealt with more scepticism than animal rights, animal welfare and conservation bodies. Pressure by Wild Justice on supermarket buyers had shown that change in the countryside could also be exerted by pressure on the corporate sector. Green Alliance policy papers were regarded as credible and trustworthy while farming is treated as a vested interest. Environmental issues were becoming more politically significant. The Green Party held the balance of power in Scotland and was influential in the Senedd. It was also important in German politics. It was an agenda that had united disparate elements. The RSPB had reversed their decades-old neutrality on game shooting with Wild Justice to promote shoot licensing. Act Now for Animals contained a range of voices, including those of hardline Animal Rights groups. The trend was increasing and had not been acknowledged by policy makers. Liam felt that we had to get better at forming our own alliances.
5 Is countryside policy increasingly, and disproportionately, being influenced by single issue pressure groups? – Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Committee
Neil said that Government wanted to be green and all-embracing. It must be careful not to be hijacked by extreme organisations. He spoke of traditional management keeping the countryside looking the way it always had. He said that Government needed to be firm over improving the environment and in producing good food but must not get pushed around by extreme organisations. He said of the Conservatives that they are a party that comes from the countryside, “but these people are not going to vote for us.”
In the short discussion that followed it was noted that the Green Alliance is running the Environment APPG and is an extremely effective campaigning body.
Graham Downing 18th May 2021