Nothing could be further from the truth. The real victims of a ban are not caricatures; they are ordinary working people in constituencies such as mine in North Yorkshire – the farmer’s wife who goes beating at the weekend so that her family can make ends meet through difficult times; the young man able to earn a living in the community he loves as an apprentice to a gamekeeper; the local publican welcoming shooting parties with cold ales and hot pies. Those who support a ban on grouse shooting must be prepared to look those people in the eye and explain to them why their livelihoods are worth sacrificing.
There are some who question shooting’s contribution to the rural economy. People suggest that the 2,500 direct jobs, and the tens of millions of pounds paid out in wages, is somehow misleading. I agree: the truth is that the benefits created by grouse shooting go far beyond the direct employment it creates.
From the Yorkshire bed and breakfast welcoming ramblers drawn to our area by the moor’s summer blossom to the workshops of Westley Richards in Birmingham or London, whose handmade shotguns are the finest in the world, the ripples of employment that grouse shooting creates reach every corner of our country.
However, it is not only to the rural economy that grouse shooting makes an invaluable contribution; it is to our rural landscape as well. There is a tendency among some conservationists to act as though farmers and gamekeepers are somehow trespassing upon Britain’s landscape, yet without their hands repairing our dry stone walls or their dairy cows keeping the fields lush, the rural beauty of our countryside would soon fade.
Heather moorland is rarer than rainforest and 75 per cent of it is found here in Britain. It is a national treasure and part of our cultural heritage.
Without the £1m of private income spent by moor owners on land management every single week, that proud heritage would come to an end. Overgrazed by sheep, used to grow pine timber or abandoned to the bracken, the moors as we know and love them would be lost. That would be a disaster for British wildlife. Studies show that endangered wading birds such as curlew and lapwing are much more likely to breed successfully on managed grouse moors.
Some 80 per cent of rare merlin – the UK’s smallest bird of prey – are found on grouse moors. There has been some discussion about the state of the hen harrier population, and although it has increased over the past few decades, more can be done.
A Britain without grouse shooting is not a Britain where the hen harrier would thrive. Research carried out on the Scottish grouse moor of Langholm, and published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, found that when gamekeeping ceased, the hen harrier population plummeted. Without gamekeepers to control them, predators multiply and hen harriers pay the price.
That is why the participation of one million acres of grouse moor in a new hen harrier brood management scheme is the right approach, and why gamekeepers supporting diversionary feeding is the right approach. Conservation will only succeed through partnership with the grouse shooting industry, and not through its destruction.
That does not just go for bird life; it goes for the land itself. The rotational burning used to manage heather moorland may seem odd to some, but without it our moors would not regenerate and support the rich wildlife and biodiversity that they do. Meanwhile, contrary to what some have claimed, Natural England and others can find no specific evidence that links burning to floods.
As for the myth that grouse shooting is somehow unregulated, I would be amused to see what the gamekeepers in my constituency, with scores of regulations, codes, licences and Acts of Parliament to comply with, make of that.
Banning grouse shooting would not only leave many families poorer, but leave our landscape and wildlife poorer too. It would be a policy with no winners. Instead, only by working together, can we ensure a bright future for the rural Britain that we all care so deeply about.
Rishi Sunak is the Conservative MP for Richmond who spoke in a Parliamentary debate on grouse shooting. This is an edited version.