Illegal raptor killing has to stop, says Angela Smith MP

angela_christine_smith_stocksbridge_2009_abHere’s another transcript from last week’s Sheffield conference on raptors. This time we feature the deeply personal yet unflinchingly resolute presentation given by Angela Smith MP (Labour, Penistone and Stocksbridge).

Angela is no stranger to the subject of illegal raptor killing on grouse moors. You may remember, way back in 2011, she tabled a Parliamentary question asking whether it was time for England to follow Scotland’s lead and introduce vicarious liability to deal with criminal gamekeepers. The response from Richard Benyon, the then DEFRA minister who also just happened to own a grouse moor, is now legendary (see here).

Here’s what Angela had to say in Sheffield (we’ve excluded some complimentary, but irrelevant here, introductory blurb):

Now I want to start with a comment about my own constituency. Although I’m a Sheffield/Barnsley MP I think that most people in the UK would think that makes me a very urban MP but I’m not. I represent the urban parts of Sheffield and also Barnsley, part of my constituency going right out in to the Peak District so it is actually very rural; 32% of the constituency is in the National Park.

And I’ve walked the hills in my area for many years, in fact going back well well before I became an MP and I love those moors with a passion. Langsett, Midhope and Broomhead, in fact I’ll be out on Langsett on Sunday morning, and it’s partly because I don’t come across, if you don’t mind me saying this, the lycra-clad brigade in large numbers, in that part of the peak. It’s truly a place where one can lose oneself and have a sense of being at one with nature.

But the simple and stark fact is that neither do I see hen harriers on those moors, or even peregrine falcons. I’ve seen just one peregrine falcon in fact in recent years and that was back in the summer of 2013, soaring over Broomhead Reservoir. In fact I think the only known site, I may be wrong on this, for peregrine falcons breeding near Sheffield is the city centre, and that, I think, is indicative of where we are. And it should concentrate our minds more than a little.

Grouse moors aplenty in my constituency, but no hen harriers. No stable populations of other birds of prey. That’s one of the reasons why I feel so passionately about this issue. Not only am I a member of the RSPB, and have been for a long time, but I also know there is something wrong with our moorland habitats. There is something essential missing; healthy populations of our wonderful raptors.

Now, I welcome this conference and hope that it can make a contribution to resolving the deeply embedded conflict that characterises the debate about how best to manage our moorlands. Because one thing I am certain of – for as long as this conflict remains unresolved, the number one loser is the hen harrier, which is in danger of disappearing altogether from our wonderful uplands if we do not sit up and get on with the job of sorting out this problem.

Over the next two days, you will hear a range of presentations from speakers with a wide range of perspectives and who represent different parts of the UK – Scotland, the Peak District and Bowland, for example. The discussions will be detailed and complex, and so they should be. This is not a black and white problem, easily resolved.

Let me just throw in a few, brief comments about what I see as the politics of this debate.

First of all, let’s remember politics is the art of the possible, someone should try telling that to my party, and it is always preferable to act on the basis of consensus and partnership. So, ideally, the best way forward, as far as our moorlands are concerned, would be to see all interested parties agreeing principles and working through differences to establish moorland management plans that balance sporting interests with the need to restore and maintain a healthy habitat, including of course stable and sustainable populations of raptors.

Such plans would vary, of course, because our uplands are themselves wonderfully diverse. The grouse moors in my constituency are part of our precious Peak District blanket bog and are badly degraded, in fact I think it’s amongst the most badly degraded in Europe. That does not mean other parts of our moorland landscape across the UK are the same. Each upland habitat needs its own plan, tailored to its own precious ecology.

But it has to be said that the chances of delivering success with this voluntary approach look increasingly remote. Despite the partnership work still ongoing in places like the Dark Peak, which I know you’re going to hear about later, the events of this summer suggest that relationships between the different parties involved are becoming even more difficult.

The withdrawal of the RSPB in particular from the Hen Harrier Action Plan is indicative and is a consequence of what the charity sees as a failure on the part of the landowners and the shooting interests to combat effectively the illegality that tarnishes the reputation of those who do want to enjoy their sport responsibly.

And for a politician this is very depressing news, for although there are legislative options available to us, the irony is that they become necessary or even more critically necessary at that point when conflict has deepened and become more firmly entrenched.

The first of these legislative options, banning driven grouse shooting, presents an apparently straight forward solution but runs the risk of alienating landowners, who in the final analysis maintain and manage our moorland areas and provide employment for many people living in rural areas. It may well also do little to prevent further persecution – there is no guarantee that making grouse shooting illegal will necessarily lead to a cessation of the illegal killing of birds of prey.

Licensing is the other option available. Now, I understand that for the grouse shooting community this is also an unpalatable option and in many ways I would join with those that say that a voluntary, partnership based approach is preferable.

But let me also say this – the licensing option has to remain on the table. If this conflict continues and if raptors continue to be persecuted, it will have to be considered. Politicians will not be able to stand aside and allow hen harriers, for instance, to disappear from our uplands altogether

Some of you may say, that’s an open invitation to charities like the RSPB in particular not to cooperate with a voluntary approach. But I say this in response. The challenge is clear now. For those who want a voluntary approach to work, and I still do, and I think most politicians would still prefer it, the precursor to progress is that the illegal killing has to stop. It just has to stop.

And, on that basis, all parties, including the RSPB, will have a duty to work together to find a way of delivering healthy, moorland habitats that can sustain the sport of shooting that so many people here today love so much.

So I, over the years, have followed this debate, it particularly impacts on my constituency, and I think we are rapidly getting to what, if you don’t mind me using a cliché, is the last chance saloon, and I think it’s critically important that we maintain every option and keep every option on the table. But as I said before, this killing has to stop.

Enjoy the conference; I can stay for only this morning, but I wish you every success in at least taking a few small steps in the right direction.


Ironically, just two days before she gave this presentation, a young peregrine was found critically injured next to a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park. It had been shot. It didn’t survive (see here).

14 thoughts on “Illegal raptor killing has to stop, says Angela Smith MP”

  1. It’s a bit illogical isn’t it?
    She seems to think that only voluntarily restraint will work even though so far it hasn’t.
    She rules out a ban as she thinks that may not stop the crimes. Not sure i understand that logic at all.
    She rules out legislation because it’s not nice but doesn’t mention that if crime can’t be stopped with a ban how will legislation be any different.
    All in all apart from a couple of strong phrases it is just more hot air. ‘One day i might make up my mind’ kind of threats.
    I know others have thought this speech was positive but if Merricks thought it was good enough to post to Mark Avery’s blog i am even more cynical.

    1. I have to agree, Anand. This might seem a very sensible speech from someone whose heart was in the right place, provided you ignored all that has happened over the last three decades or so.
      Either she has become aware of this issue only recently and doesn’t know the history in any depth, or she’s just a rather wishy-washy, ‘I’m sure we can talk this through’ type of person. Either way, I hope this isn’t the best we can expect from our MPs.

  2. No. No. No you may not use that cliché. I do mind. Don’t do it.

    There’s a reason sayings like “the last chance saloon” become clichés … it’s because people don’t mean it when they say it … they can’t mean it otherwise they wouldn’t say it so often. it becomes a cliché because repetition renders it meaningless.

    1. I agree with that.
      She demonstrates a socialist type naivity that relies upon everyone else being grown up, decent and responsible.
      Im all for that but the bastards with grouse moor bank accounts do not.
      They will fight tooth and nail to protect their commercial interests.
      Custodial sentences for raptor killers and employers please.

  3. My heart started sinking when I heard the usual arguments about how important grouse shooting was to rural communities. Oh dear you know that’s a clincher, not it being true, but it being brought into the discussion. This means we are not going to get rid of it, because we have fallen for or are using jobs blackmail ourselves. I’m afraid the Achilles Heel of our campaigning is not having a really well constructed alternative plan for what the moors could do otherwise re jobs. The main culprit is of course the estates and representative bodies themselves such Scottish Land and Estates which deliberately play down alternatives such as Eco tourism because everything else has to exist around the huntin, fishin, shootin status quo – including rural communities. We should definitely point that out for starters. But we really need to show alternatives too, as there is so little apart from driven grouse shooting in many areas it’s probably really difficult for many people to envisage anything else, bit of a vicious circle. What do people in Norway do instead? In fact what does any relatively comparable region elsewhere in the world do? Climactically there’ll even be parts of South America that are similar to Scotland – so much to look at that we have been deprived of.

    There are other ‘fronts’ we need to open up, for instance the development of naturalistic flood control measures in our uplands – more trees, logjams in streams and especially having beavers that grouse moors would not want! But the employment/rural economy is a real biggie. We need to do more work on that and put it all together as an argument we can take to politicians, press and public that grouse moors are actually pretty crap for rural communities and are holding back much better alternatives – but we need to highlight what they are and in credible detail. What could the public subsidy they receive be redirected too? Otherwise I think we’ll be banging our heads off a brick wall (I.e the SNP’s poor response to Mark Avery’s BDGS petition) for far more years to come than we really need to. Challenge the estates’ economic case authoritively, put forward superior alternatives, and underline, ruthlessly, that grouse moors contribute to flooding (and are inimical to natural flood prevention methods) of businesses, high grade farmland and homes downstream and the ‘case’ for them collapses. Political friends of theirs might start becoming very quiet when they know they are backing the losing horse. Angela Smith is certainly not one of their friends, but nothing she said indicates she wants to get rid of them either, ludicrous in so many ways though they are for god’s sake – we need to take stock of that.

    1. Great comment. The RSPB probably won’t do it as they still support grouse shooting but maybe LACS could do a study on the hidden costs and the alternatives e.g. tourists benefits, of a re-wilded grouse moor.
      In an RSPB magazine (1994?) dedicated to Hen Harriers there was a pretty diagram of statistics including the alleged income of grouse moors and also the public subsidies. The subsidies figure was over a period of several years but it didn’t say if that was an average or a total! Bit naught that.
      If the National Trust banned grouse shooting we could study the financial benefits of tourism. I imagine it would be very high especially in areas near the big cities like the pennines.

      The LACS have already myth-busting the £2 billion claim by the ‘game’-shooting lobby

      Click to access 4pp-Shooting-Briefing-paper.pdf

      But any financial argument is surely only sound when the law is being upheld. The ’employment’ argument can be used to defend absolutely any illegal activity but no one is stupid enough to use it except, strangely enough, when the crimes are [supported] by the rich and powerful.
      What other sporting industry or any industry for that matter, is allowed to continue when ALL the members, in this case the grouse estates, are actually profiting from and are dependent on wildlife crime, as demonstrated at Langholm. And yet the public is expected to give the highest priority to the livelihood of henchmen of those same profiteers. Henchmen who would be quite capable of becoming good wildlife guides, if they so wished.

  4. Some excellent points made by Les W. Angela Smith seems to care about her local community. She comes across as enjoying her local countryside, but appears to be missing the crucial point.

    “And, on that basis, all parties, including the RSPB, will have a duty to work together to find a way of delivering healthy, moorland habitats that can sustain the sport of shooting that so many people here today love so much.”

    Sounds like she has already resigned to the fact that we need to help the shooters. So many people love to shoot, do they? I don’t think they do. I would say more people like to go walking and enjoy the countryside and observe wildlife. We are paying these people to destroy habitat and wildlife.
    It is an elitest sport for the few, where people can come up from the city, drive up to the turret and blast uninteresting birds out of the sky. They can’t miss, there are that many grouse to shoot. I wouldn’t even call it sport.
    We are going to really struggle with this like Les says. We have to have a clear plan and strategy because i don’t think we are going to get much help from MPs when this gets debated.

  5. Miss Smith started off her speech with good intentions, even I was beginning to believe that we had an MP who might just rock the grouse shooters’ boat a little more than any of her colleagues.
    But then she ran right in to the snare with the same old about how important the shooting industry is for the rural economy.
    When will Miss Smith and her colleagues realise that only a ban on the sport will give our natural heritage a chance to return to sustainable levels?
    As long as our uplands are keepered for game then this blog will continue to report the killing of raptors.
    I suggest Miss Smith and her colleagues read ‘Inglorious’.

  6. Les Wallace has stated points that I have made with regard to the fatuous reasons/excuses of shooting estate landowners/leaseholders, in comments made about the situtation prevailing on the landscape of Scotland. He correctly pointed out the need for a convincing plan for that part our rural communities being used to justify the blood sport of game bird shooting. That plan would be promulgated to show that what controls a large part of the countryside in Scotland, is a cynical and depressingly cruel anachronism, which was allowed to exist due to the power it had to subject poor people with no alternatives, to a life of subservience as ghillies, gamekeepers and whatever labour was required to sustain the hegemony of the shooters. The required respect accorded to the Royal Family and its hangers on, made Balmoral and almost religious centre for banging away at birds and whatever else caught the eye of the tweeded gunners.

    Mention was made of comparing what goes happens to wildlife on British moorlands, with equivalent sites elsewhere in the world. In Norway, according the SNH publication, THE NATURE OF SCOTLAND (Spring/Summer 2016) a process of woodland restoration has taken place on what was a much denuded landscape, by careful planting and subsequent natural regeneration from those strategic plantings. That has lead to increases in bird populations along with mammals crucial to sustain Birds of Prey. Shooting co-exists with this regeneration of the natural environment, but not oppressingly as found in the UK. The benefits of such reaffostation has given boosts to the forestry industry, natural restoration giving an open woodland landscape suitable for humane recreation and tourism, carbon sequestration, soil conservation, flood prevention, stabilising slopes against landslips. Where Scotland could also benefit, would be to use former non-conformist shooting estate buildings to be used as training places for the bored and unruly young people of our housing estates, where they could learn, from inspired and practical instructors in different skills. The problem is in Scotland, is that it has suffered indoctrination from its political parties that they can solve all social, environmental and other problems with their party dogma, which has been happy to ignore the huge potential of our rural environment, which been crying out for an imaginative approach to solving its problems. Very few of our politicians have taken an intelligent look at what is happening to the natural environment world wide, and the part Scotland/UK should be playing in counteracting the deleterous effects of globalisation and its rapacious ripping the planet apart for resources to feed the treadmill of increasing economic growth, to match high population increase. The natural environment should be sacrosanct, for without proper care, human existence as we enjoy today, will cease to be sustainable. To ignore further the writing on the wall, our politicians are only delaying the day when eviction notices will have to be given to blots on our landscape of selfish and cruel shooting estates. The present pogrom of our Birds of Prey and Mountain Hares, should be giving us the martyrs necessary for our strong in ineluctabel argument to be rid of those who will not comply with wildlife legislation.

  7. The key problem, as others have said, is to find a viable alternative use for the land if driven grouse shooting is banned.

    The realistic options seem to be:
    1. shooting estates restricted to walked up shooting
    2. commercial forestry
    3. sheep
    4. leave the ground alone and let it revert in the fullness of time to woodland.

    Of those option 1 is probably the most pragmatic and might work, subject to a proper licensing system.

  8. Some of these comments ignore the simple fact, Angela is an opposition MP. Criticising her for lack of progress is neither fair or logical. Politics is the art of the possible, politicians try to reconcile a wide range of demands and opinions, representing all their constituents. This doesn’t make them two faced or wishy washy, and Angela is neither.

  9. Angela, I hope by now you have read MRk Avery’s book Inglorious. he makes it clear that hen harriers and the current method of grouse mass slaughter cannot coexist. he also explains that discussion and debate has outrun its course. The grouse shooting lobby have sat in meeting rooms as a cover whilst their henchmen are out there committing firearms offences against protective species.

  10. I agree with the comments from CB. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that here we have an MP who clearly has a personal interest in the moorlands in her constituency and who is aware of the problems we are facing. How many of us can say that our own MP is as clued-up as this? If there were more like her we might make some progress sooner rather than later. Remember, too, that she is also the constituency representative of those who are the cause of the problem.

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