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Spare me the rural ignorance of Labour luvvies from posh London postcodes 

First day of the grouse shooting season
All Labour's proposed review of grouse shooting shows is that it knows nothing about the countryside Credit:  Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

The press release detailing the Labour Party’s proposed review of grouse shooting deserves a place in the National Archives. It will speak to generations to come as an example of how policymakers living in posh London postcodes can get so many basic facts about the countryside spectacularly wrong.

Exhibit one. It claims that grouse moors are putting the environment at risk by drying out moorland. Only one problem with that: gamekeepers make huge efforts to keep the moors wet, because grouse love the heather that flourishes in damp conditions. A basic Google search reveals dozens of expert sources on how grouse moors are being “rewetted”. And if Labour’s environment team doesn’t trust experts, they should try walking on a grouse moor. Every time their Islington loafers plunge knee-deep into the boggy ground, they can consider it evidence that they have been misled. The moors were drained 50 years ago because the government told moor owners to do this. Then the policy was reversed. Labour is merely a few decades out of date.

Exhibit two. Labour says that grouse moors receive £3 million of taxpayers’ money for grouse shooting. Not so. The vast majority of this money is for the sheep farming which takes place on moorland used for shooting.

Exhibit three. This is my favourite. The press release says that driven grouse shooting should be replaced by “simulated shooting”, which would be a “viable” alternative for the rural economy. But why would people travel for hours to the remote uplands to shoot clay pigeons when they could do that on the outskirts of any big city? Why would owners spend millions on the upkeep of our heather-clad hills? They would simply become ecological deserts for want of investment.

Labour’s proposed ban on driven shooting would simply drive up unemployment. It would impoverish working-class communities which rely on shooting to keep the local hotels and taxi companies going when the summer tourism fades away.

How has Labour got this so wrong? One clue in its press release is its reliance on the RSPB. The charity has form for twisting the facts. A team of scientists were so concerned about this that they wrote a paper for the Royal Society, saying that the charity’s claims about grouse moors carried only a “passing resemblance” to the facts.

The RSPB is a campaigning business run by activists who hate shooting. For evidence, look no further than their vice president, Chris Packham, who has called grouse shooting “satanic”. He is the man who earlier this year used lawyers to force Natural England to ban predator control during the height of the breeding season. That meant farmers and gamekeepers were unable to shoot crows. The result was the death of thousands of songbirds, as well as countless lambs having their eyes pecked out by crows.

There’s another reason the RSPB loathes grouse moors: they are awash with birds. Gamekeepers are so good at keeping predators under control that ground-nesting birds breed in huge numbers. Newcastle and Durham universities estimated that if game-keepers stopped work – as Labour’s policy implies – the result would be 
87 per cent fewer curlew chicks and 
95 per cent fewer golden plover.

The RSPB has long accused gamekeepers of killing not just foxes and crows but also hen harriers, which eat grouse. Yet that excuse has run out. Last weekend, Natural England revealed that a record number of hen harriers had fledged in England – 47 chicks, most in nests on land managed for grouse shooting.

Yet what about on RSPB reserves, where little predator control happens? Government figures show that hen harriers do less well on RSPB land than elsewhere. If Labour wants to encourage birdlife, it could ask the RSPB to say how many birds it has on its 200 reserves. It stopped publishing the numbers in 2012. I wonder why.

Given that grouse moors have become Britain’s best bird sanctuaries, you have to question why Tony Juniper, the chairman of Natural England, has called for grouse-moor owners to be charged for crimes committed by gamekeepers. He thinks society should assume owners would know about illegal activity by their gamekeepers on remote hillsides. Assuming guilt is never a good idea. Yet Mr Juniper is a former leader of Friends of the Earth. So ideological posturing goes with the territory.

Nature does best when it is managed by pragmatists who live in the countryside. Every farmer and gamekeeper knows that it is full of unavoidable choices. We either have fewer foxes or fewer curlews. Fewer crows or fewer songbirds. I would like to invite Labour’s team up on to a moor, with wellington boots on, to discuss these choices. We could then sit down for a delicious lunch of grouse – a bird which will have spent its entire life in the wild before being shot, unlike the chicken sold in an Islington supermarket, which would have lived just six weeks in desperately cramped conditions before being slaughtered.

Sir Ian Botham is a grouse shooting enthusiast and former England cricketer