There’s a fascinating article in The Guardian today about how the UK Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, appears to have held a secret meeting with wealthy grouse moor owners to encourage them to voluntarily end controversial heather burning to head off a threat of a compulsory ban by the European Commission.
Have a read of the Guardian article (here) and then have a look at this blog on the website Who Owns England, written by environmental campaigner Guy Shrubsole, whose painstaking research is revealing quite a lot about grouse moor ownership in England, including the detail behind today’s headline story.
Aside from the newsworthiness of Michael Gove’s apparent interest in protecting grouse moor owners from the potential constraints of European environmental protection regulation, there’s something else very interesting about this story, as referenced by Mark Avery this morning.
Earlier this year (March), Mark submitted several FoIs to DEFRA to ask whether Michael Gove had met with Teresa Dent (GWCT), Ian Coghill (GWCT), Nick Downshire (Jervaulx Moor) and Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association). DEFRA’s response was a bit odd – agreeing that a meeting had taken place with Teresa Dent but apparently not with the other three (see Mark’s blog here for details).
Now, have a look at the redacted list of attendees at this meeting with Michael Gove to discuss a voluntary end to heather burning, which took place on 1 February 2018 (i.e. BEFORE Mark submitted his FoI):
It’s not very helpful, is it? What is helpful though, is that whoever undertook this redaction exercise didn’t do a very good job because if you cut and paste the text in to a WORD doc, the redacted names can be seen:
Ian Coghill’s name isn’t on the list of attendees, but Nick Downshire’s name is there, as is Amanda Anderson’s. Imagine that! Mark Avery says he’s going back to DEFRA to ask for an explanation about their ‘forgetfulness’.
Another interesting angle to today’s headline story is this notion of ‘voluntary’ action. This is becoming quite a theme for grouse moor management, isn’t it? We’ve seen the so-called ‘voluntary restraint’ on the mass slaughter of mountain hares on grouse moors in Scotland (not working), the so-called voluntary regulation of game shoot management in the form of the British Game Alliance (not fit for purpose, see here and here), the recent ‘voluntary suspension’ by Strathbraan gamekeepers on killing ravens (pointless, as the waders whose chicks they were supposedly protecting have finished breeding for this year anyway), and now a ‘voluntary end’ to environmentally damaging heather burning on grouse moors.
The common demoninator in all this ‘voluntary’ action is that none of it is legally binding. So if any of these practices were to continue (and we know some of them are), the enforcement authorities wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it. Meanwhile, the grouse shooting industry and the Westminster & Scottish Governments can all pretend that grouse moor managers are truly responsible curators of the countryside, as evidenced by their ‘voluntary self-regulation’, so there’s no need to bring in any legislation to control their clearly unsustainable practices.
Great, isn’t it?