Anti-shooting minister forces a ban on shooting on public land in Wales, throwing out a £45,000 consultation in the process
Wales is set to stop commercial shooting on its public land in a dramatic u-turn that ignores the results of a public consultation and could have knock-on effects for shooting in the UK as a whole.
Shooting organisations are now spearheading a campaign to overturn the decision, which appears to be a result of pressure from animal rights groups as well as the Welsh environment minister, Hannah Blythyn.
Natural Resources Wales, a Welsh government- sponsored body, had been consulting on whether game shooting on its land should continue. During this process, Ms Blythyn had said the Welsh government was opposed to the continuation of commercial shooting, as well as the breeding of gamebirds and birds being kept in holding pens, vaguely citing “ethical issues”.
This alone had sparked consternation among shooting organisations. But NRW appeared set to renew its shooting leases, with a number of conditions attached. As recently as July, NRW said it agreed with the leading recommendations of a review paper on the use of firearms on NRW land. The paper said shooting should continue to be used to control pest species, and that pheasant shooting and wildfowling were also acceptable.
However, just days before NRW’s board was set to vote, Ms Blythyn then imposed her anti-shooting views on the board, instructing them to vote against shooting. Ultimately, the board voted to comply with Ms Blythyn’s order, ignoring the results of the review, the production of which had cost taxpayers around £45,000.
Whose decision is it anyway?
BASC immediately called this out as an example of politically motivated interference that flew in the face of evidence-based policy. The UK’s largest shooting organisation said it was considering mounting a legal challenge against the decision.
Then, in an extraordinary move, Ms Blythyn then distanced herself from responsibility for the decision, saying her call for NRW to ban shooting was not actually binding.
In the Welsh Assembly on 26 September, she was challenged by Andrew Davies AM, who said: “I think it’s a deeply regrettable decision that you have taken. In many vulnerable communities, there will be redundancy notices served to many employees who rely on the shooting industry to provide employment where few alternatives are available to them. So, by your actions, you will be helping to serve those redundancy notices.
“Can you confirm that this is a political decision that you have taken and is not based on the science or, if you have additional information, can you make that information available?”
Ms Blythyn replied: “I do not see this as an intervention. Natural Resources Wales made it clear from the outset that the wider policy and ethical considerations would be a matter for Welsh Government as a landowner. Having received the draft recommendations, we set out the Welsh Government’s position.”
She continued: “The Welsh Government’s position is a matter for NRW’s ongoing consideration and did not bind them to accept or follow our position.”
Shooting organisations were up in arms at this outcome, pointing out that Ms Blythyn had not referred to scientific evidence at any stage during her defence of her decision. A Countryside Alliance spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that Labour’s Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn, sought to constantly undermine the significance of her decision to end pheasant shooting on public land, and to shift the blame onto NRW.
“We all know NRW changed course because of the minister’s instructions and it is disingenuous to suggest they did not feel bound to do so. And it is frankly offensive to write off those affected by this decision as only ‘1 per cent of the pheasant shooting in Wales’. Those comments will be of little comfort to rural people losing their jobs.”
And Steve Griffiths, BASC director Wales, said: “On first flush, it appears that the minister is now shifting the blame to the NRW board.
“We can only hope this is because the public outcry from those who appreciate the potentially damaging impact of this decision has made the minister finally realise the true value of shooting to fragile rural economies and sensitive environments.
“We don’t believe it is too late to reverse this decision and we are urgently seeking clarity from NRW as to their understanding of the minister’s very late intervention.”
BASC has launched a full campaign to get NRW to change its mind, including a video explaining the benefits of shooting and a dedicated website making it easier for people in Wales to contact their MPs.
Shooting is worth £75 million annually to the Welsh economy, it invests £7.4 million in the maintenance and enhancement of natural resources each year and supports the equivalent of 2,400 full-time jobs.
Visit BASC’s page at: www.basc.org.uk/nrw. The Countryside is also expected to launch an eLobby for campaigning purposes soon.
To view BASC’s video, search YouTube for ‘Value of Shooting in Wales’. BASC has urged all viewers to share the video on social media and tag @NatResWales and @HannahBlythyn to highlight to policy-makers the strength of feeling on the issue.