The recent vote by members of the Labour Group of Bradford Metropolitan District Council to not renew the shooting lease on Ilkley Moor has been met with disbelief and disappointment by many, flying as it does in the face of reasonable logic.
As its owner, Bradford Council has both a national and international responsibility to conserve the moor, and while councillors are known to have been subjected to an animal rights campaign, with the lobby group Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor at its forefront, the Countryside Alliance tried hard to engage with the Labour Group so that when voting, their decisions could be based on facts; not on unsubstantiated accusations, or through online campaigning which is unrepresentative of public opinion as a whole.
Ilkley Moor is the last remaining council-owned moor on which grouse shooting and its associated management has taken place. The shooting lease has been held by the Bingley Moor Partnership (BMP) since 2008, and in the council’s own 2016-2026 Management Plan for Ilkley Moor, the BMP is listed as being one of the key partners that were vital to the ongoing success of that plan. That appears to have been a short-lived aspiration.
When the BMP took on the shooting lease in 2008, only 25 per cent of Ilkley Moor was heather-dominant, and over the last ten years this has doubled. This is a habitat of considerable importance and we have a duty to protect it.
It is also the only habitat on which red grouse, a totally wild species unique to the United Kingdom, is found, and although they had virtually disappeared from Ilkley Moor when the BMP took over its management, the population has now been restored. As a result, it is no coincidence that 70 per cent of England’s upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest are managed grouse moors, and over 40 per cent are also designated as Special Protection Areas for rare birds and Special Areas of Conservation for rare vegetation, the highest designations under European nature directives. Ilkley Moor carries all three designations.
The management of heather is vital not just for the benefit of grouse, but for many other ground nesting birds that share that habitat. The RSPB considers the curlew to be the species of highest conservation priority in the UK, and research has shown that their densities can be up to five times greater on moors managed for grouse shooting, compared to those that are not. Independent bird counts carried out over the last eight years have shown that many threatened species of ground nesting birds have multiplied in number on Ilkley Moor since the BMP took on the management, including curlew.
The income from grouse shooting has been used by the BMP to fund this management. It has paid for, and housed, a full-time employee on site to look after the Moor, dealing with vandalism, wildfires and anti-social behaviour.
In addition, it has employed some 40 people on a casual basis on each of the eight shoot days that it has held each year, the Partnership having paid the council £12,000 each year to do so. It had offered to increase this to £16,000 annually, so £2,000 for each shoot day, which is income that will now be lost to the public purse. It will also now be taxpayers that have to fund the moor’s significant management costs that had previously been covered by the BMP.
In reaching its decision, it is unfortunate that Bradford Council did not follow the example of the National Trust, which only last week announced it had selected three new shooting tenants in the Peak District to work as partners in order to help deliver its High Peak Moors Vision over the next five years. The National Trust had also been subjected to anti-shooting campaign by animal rights activists, but chose to side with evidence and common sense and made this decision based on what it thinks is best for nature, having recognised the considerable environmental, economic and social benefits of grouse shooting and its associated management.
The High Peak is a managed landscape and its new tenants have committed to work with the National Trust to boost wildlife and enhance the landscape that draws millions of tourists every year. This is exactly what the BMP had been committed to do with Bradford Council, in order to help further enhance the flora and fauna on the 1,500 acres of Ilkley Moor over which it has held the shooting lease for the last ten years.
The council’s decision to end that partnership raises serious concerns for the future of Ilkley Moor, and it needs to be held accountable. There is a need for it to publicly commit to maintaining the current levels of funding for the conservation and management of the moor, and to commit to the rigorous monitoring of the wildlife on the moor.
The change in management can be expected to have an impact on many species, not least the curlew, and it will need to take responsibility for any declines.
Adrian Blackmore is director of shooting at the Countryside Alliance.