All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and there are strong penalties in place for offences committed against birds of prey and other wildlife, with most wildlife crimes carrying up to an unlimited fine and/or a six-month custodial sentence. To address concerns about illegal killing of birds of prey, senior Government and enforcement officers have identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. The National Wildlife Crime Unit monitors and gathers intelligence on wildlife crime, including raptor persecution, and aids police forces in their investigations when required.
After speaking to the Minister, it is clear that the Government is very concerned about hen harrier populations, which is why it took the lead on the Hen Harrier Action Plan. This sets out what will be done to increase hen harrier populations in England and includes measures to stop illegal persecution. The Keighley and Ilkley constituency has many fantastic moorland areas and it’s critical to maintain these to the highest standard to encourage diverse ecology, including protecting the hen harrier.
The England Peat Strategy will be published later this year which will detail further how we can protect, restore and reduce damage to our peatlands. It is important to recognise that healthy, active peatland provides numerous environmental benefits and ecosystem services including natural cover for grouse. I am pleased that the Government is working with moor owners to further improve management practices and peat condition, such as through Blanket Bog Restoration Projects. This will need to be scrutinised in detail, and I look forward to being involved in that process.
It is essential that our wildlife is properly protected and anyone involved in game management must respect the country’s conservation laws, which are among the toughest in the world. That being said, shooting as a whole is worth about £2 billion a year to the economy, much of it in some of our remotest communities. It supports more than 70,000 full-time equivalent jobs, 1,520 relating directly to grouse shooting.
While there are no current plans to carry out a review of the management of grouse moors, I recognise it is vital that wildlife is respected and protected and that the law is observed. I am pleased that the Government will continue to work to ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation. This is something which I will be monitoring closely as a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee.