Wild Justice’s attempts to attack shooting in the courts are more about convenience than true environmentalism, argues Dr Marnie Lovejoy…
On 1 December 2021 Justice Lang concluded in the High Court that Wild Justice’s claims for a judicial review of Defra’s new burning regulations in England were wholly unarguable and have no real prospect of success.
Two weeks later, on 14 December, we learned that Wild Justice sought permission to appeal this decision.
The attempted judicial review seeks to challenge the legality of the Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2021. The regulations ban heather burning on our most protected sites on peat of more than 40cm depth, unless under a licence for special beneficial circumstances.
From a legal perspective the refusal to grant judicial review by two different High Court judges is not surprising.
However, relentless campaigns against the shooting sector dressed up as environmentalism continue to be a threat.
So far, both High Court judges, Justice Dove and Justice Lang, remained firmly focused on the law in question during the most recent proceedings. It would have been all too easy to succumb to simplistic and partial portrayals of what are in reality complex environmental issues instead.
Vegetation management through burning has taken place on our uplands for centuries – if not millennia – and has shaped the landscapes that are now deemed worthy of protection.
The shooting community plays a crucial part in maintaining these habitats as they are, to a degree that even the European Commission acknowledged that:
“Some of the most important wildlife sites in Europe have survived the pressures of development and destruction due to the interests of game management. For example, the United Kingdom has the largest areas of heather moorland anywhere in Europe largely due to its value for grouse hunting, which provided a strong basis from preventing the loss of this habitat from commercial afforestation and other threats”
‘Cool’ prescribed burns of vegetation following best practices are likely to have only a minor and transient effect on the hydrology of peat. They also only make a minor contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.
A complete ban of burning on the other hand, is likely to lead to an increase of the fuel load on moorlands and therefore an increase of wildfire risks.
Wildfires lead to significant emissions of greenhouse gases. They are also capable of damaging our peat, part of the UK’s largest carbon store, significantly and in some cases irreversibly.
Unsurprisingly, all management techniques have their respective pros and cons; BASC has been clear that burning is an important part of the toolkit. It is essential that land managers are able to select the most appropriate means to protect and enhance our precious moorlands, this includes mowing, grazing and burning alongside continued restoration.
True environmentalists would acknowledge such complex ecological interactions. It could be suggested that actions of Wild Justice appear therefore not to be driven by what is best for the environment, but what can be used most conveniently to attack the shooting community.
The issue that was really taken to court in this case was our cultural heritage. Their motives? A desire to take control over our countryside.
The shooting sector makes many important contributions to our environment and should be recognised and embraced for that, whether or not one likes shooting.
At least the courts seem to acknowledge the fact that the Habitats Directive, which underpins our domestic environmental laws, demands that protection measures take account of economic, social, and cultural requirements and regional, and local characteristics.
We expect all authorities, civil servants, and politicians to respect this legal obligation and to accept shooting as valuable cultural heritage. We also compel these groups to support the shooting industry as an important partner in the furtherance of conservation and biodiversity.
And as for the challenges of Wild Justice? We will continue to rebut them by putting the law, the scientific evidence, and the environment first.