Passing The Buck

‘A government minister who wrote to environment bosses calling on them to ban shooting on its land has said her request did not bind them to doing it. Hannah Blythyn has since been accused of ‘shifting the blame’ for the decision made by Natural Resources Wales to stop game shoots on its estates from March 2019.

The NRW had commissioned a tax-funded report in excess of £45,000, concluding that shooting on its land contributed to the country’s sustainable management and well-being goals. However, Ms Blythyn followed this up with a letter calling for a ban which the NRW decided to act upon.

Ms Blythyn has since back-tracked, claiming it “did not bind NRW to accept and follow the [government’s] position.” Countryside groups have subsequently accused the environment minister of washing her hands of the decision to ban pheasant shooting on public land in Wales.

And in the Assembly, Plaid AM Llyr Gruffydd said: “After this debacle, the integrity and the credibility and the reputation of Natural Resources Wales has been shot down in tatters.”

Shot Down In Tatters

Ms Blythyn stressed that the move only affected three shoots over a combined area of fewer than 300 hectares; representing less than one per cent of pheasants-shooting enterprise in the Wales.

The concern is that the move sets a worrying precedent for the impacts ministers can have on rural lifestyle, and therefore the Countryside Alliance have launched an e-Lobby platform to target Assembly Members. But the devastating blows to rural communities have already been landed.

Last month GTN reported on BASC’s campaign to reverse the NRW’s own u-turn, and shoot owners have since been revealing the true cost of the Minister’s decision to end pheasant shooting leases. The Countryside Alliance have also entered the debate, suggesting that Ms Blythyn’s proposal would have a devastating impact on the livelihoods of Mid Wales residents.

The CA have also been given permission by one of the leaseholders to reveal the content of documents which were presented to NRW during their review into the use of firearms on public land. These documents reveal an annual spend of over £400,000 from one lease holder alone, spent entirely with businesses in some of the remotest parts of Wales.

It also reveals the number of jobs directly dependent on the shoot, all of which are in jeopardy following a Welsh Government intervention that has sent a disturbing ripple of uncertainty through rural Wales. The revelations list those whose income depends on the Shoot, including several full time gamekeepers and almost 20 other members of staff who reside within 12 miles of the shoot.

Employment in this region is difficult to find, particularly in the winter months. Neither the number of employees nor the annual spend detailed in the documents include the economic impact of the shooting guests who spend money in the local community during the season. This includes the holiday lets and hotels in North Wales, who accommodate the hundreds of people who visit to shoot during the season – casting the net of uncertainty even wider.

The leaseholder told the Alliance: “We are extremely proud of our staff here at the shoot and proud of the fact that our business which we have put our heart and souls into contributes to the sustainability of so many rural businesses and their families, as well as making substantial contributions to charities through our fundraising at the shoot. This will have a knock-on effect from one community to another for years to come.”

Knock-on Effects

During Ms Blythyn’s attempts to play down the value of the shooting enterprises affected by her decision, she did not indicate if she would accept an invitation by Russell George, Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire, to visit his constituents affected by her proposal.

Russell George AM said: “I think it’s disappointing that both NRW and Welsh Government ministers have chosen to ignore the science and the evidence. “The proposal will have significant negative consequences for the mid Wales economy, and demonstrates that the Welsh Labour Government has little understanding of Wales’ rural economy.”

Rachel Evans, Countryside Alliance Director for Wales added: “When you look at the harm that Welsh Labour’s decision would do to rural communities, you have to wonder if this reflects Labour’s wider approach to the countryside. Taking away people’s livelihoods with a decision that is not based on evidence is truly shocking.

“We have warned Welsh Government in various meetings that a decision to end pheasant shooting leases on NRW-managed land would negatively impact on the rural economy, and now the Alliance can reveal the extent of the damage. If this decision is implemented, the effects will be felt for years.”

Shooting is worth £75m annually to the Welsh economy, supporting the equivalent of 2,400 full-time jobs and investing £7.4m in the maintenance and enhancement of natural resources each year.

To support the e-Lobby you can sign the Countryside Alliance’s letter to the NRW at countryside-alliance.org/reverse-the-pheasant-shooting-ban-in-wales/. This will be sent in both English and Welsh and aims to return control back to the NRW, bringing their review process full circle.

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