The EU CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) has long been a contentious issue with farmers, landowners and the public and not without good reason. When you take a look at a satellite map of the UK compared to our European neighbours there is undoubtedly something very different about the UK.
In Europe, the lowlands are clearly used for agriculture and food production whilst the uplands are wooded. In the UK, the lowlands, whilst used for agriculture are relatively bare and the uplands are barren. Apart from areas of plantation forest, the UK has no trees in the uplands above around 200 metres.
Many understand that hill-farming is a very tough way of life - for people. Most hill farmers get by on very little income and are dependent upon CAP subsidies to survive. The other use of UK uplands is grouse moors - used by shooting parties to kill imported farmed grouse for pleasure.
Moorlands in the UK qualify for CAP payments. In 2016, UK taxpayers paid £4.5 million to landowners, so even if you would never, or have any interest in shooting game birds - you are certainly paying for it to continue through your taxes. That cannot be right!
The situation is further complicated by ‘Brexit’ that will see an end to CAP payments and, as Environment Minister Michael Gove has promised - reform farm payments and force landowners to earn their money. The CAP payments are currently based on the amount of land owned - nothing to do with work done. They are intended to support the production of food crops and bring environmental benefits to the land and wildlife. These include improving wildlife habitats, tree planting and flood prevention.
Grouse Moors benefit hugely from the CAP subsidies - but what benefit do they deliver? - Well, they certainly don’t plant any trees - the grouse moors are managed for grouse and grouse need heather. The UK is naturally a wooded region, but the moors were cleared for agriculture, centuries ago and are now seen by some as part of our natural heritage. They don’t improve wildlife habitats either. Native wildlife is considered a predator to red grouse.These ground-nesting birds are vulnerable to predation from a wide range of native animals such as raptors, corvids, stoat, badger, and foxes. All are trapped and killed in large numbers by gamekeepers protecting the red grouse. The irony is, the grouse are protected to be shot by humans for pleasure.
Grouse moors are considered to be one of the primary causes of lowland flooding - not prevention. The heather on the moors is burned regularly to make the growth more vigorous - something that has been done of centuries - but, our ancestors burned the heather every 15 - 20 years in a controlled pattern - now heather is burned on a 3 to 5-year rotation. The frequency of the burning stops most plants, beyond heather from recovering. Also, much of the uplands in Britain are peat bogs. Peat burns slowly and for a long time - which is why the people used it for fuel to heat their cottages in the past - but peat also burns underground, long after the fire above land has gone out. This causes the release of stored carbon into the atmosphere - increasing emissions. When rain falls on the uplands, it hits the burned surface and cannot be absorbed by the soil. It, therefore ‘runs off’ the land - eroding the soil - and carrying it downhill in the torrent of water. This is the basic cause of ‘flash flooding’ in the lowlands. Something that the UK has seen a significant increase of, in recent years.
It is clear then that grouse moors deliver none of the benefits required by the CAP scheme to qualify for payments. They are not upland farmers.
Grouse Moors are BIG business in every way. They cover around 550,000 hectares in Northern Britain alone - that is larger than the complete inner M25 area - with some other bits of Greater London included! This land is owned by around 30 private individuals and companies. Grouse Shooting is expensive. It will cost at least £1000 per person per day and most shoots operate parties of ten to twenty ‘shooters’ The Grouse season runs from 12th August to 10th December every year. That’s an income of well in excess of £1 million a year per estate in just two months!
Friends of the Earth researched thirty shooting estates in 2014. The estates covered 300,000 hectares and received £4 million in CAP subsidies between them. The research also revealed the estates are owned by a mixture of lords, dukes, earls, and barons as well as bankers, businessmen and firms based in offshore tax havens.
The largest subsidy was given to the Lilburn estate in Northumberland, owned by Duncan Davidson, the founder of housebuilding giant Persimmon Homes. In 2014, the estate received £1.6m in CAP subsidy, with another £1.3m in 2015. The Abbeystead estate in Lancashire – owned by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor estate – received £7,200 in farm subsidies in 2014 and £203,000 in 2015. The Grosvenor Estate describes Abbeystead as “one of the premier sporting estates in the UK” and it is reputed to hold the record for the most grouse shot in a single day: a total of 2,929 birds killed by eight shooters on 12 August 1915. The Mossdale estate in the Yorkshire Dales, owned by the Van Cutsem family, obtained £54,000 in subsidies in 2014 and £170,000 in 2015. In June 2016, the estate resigned from the Moorland Association after a keeper was filmed setting illegal pole traps. All information is taken from the Friends of the Earth Research.
The shooting industry claims some remarkable ‘conservation’ benefits for upland moors and is quick to say the industry supports jobs int he rural economy - but a what price? There are many issues raised by grouse shooting - not least, the grouse, often raised in grouse farms in Europe, they endure a long journey by sea and road to the grouse moors, mainly located in the north of England. They are then released to the moors to be shot a couple of months later for the entertainment of a few.
The conservation claims are misleading. It is true, that grouse and some waders benefit from the type of land management carried out by the shooting estates. It is also true, that raptors such as Hen Harriers and Eagles, and other protected species are killed to protect the grouse in addition to the legal killing of foxes, stoats, Corvids and many other native wild species.
Shooting estates have used the uplands as cash-cows - taking millions in subsidies from taxpayers to support the killing of hundreds of thousands of birds every year in the name of entertainment. Land management is geared directly to the welfare of the grouse, and to the detriment of native wildlife and people.
The UK taxpayer would be horrified to know that their income tax is being given to wealthy landowners to support the killing of grouse for entertainment and that's before they know about the snaring and poisoning of protected and native wild animals and the destruction of the upland peat bogs, carbon release from burning and the increased risk of flooding to those taxpayers homes and businesses in the lowlands.
Subsidies are a vital part of this ‘industry’ We call on the government to remove subsidies from shooting estates and upland horse trainers and to ensure they are focused on restoring our natural wooded uplands, creating diverse habitats for the upland wildlife, stopping the carbon release from burning peat bogs and creating genuine ‘flood prevention’ in the uplands to stop the increased flash flooding of the lowlands.