Finding the middle ground: our meeting with Olivia Blake MP

Gareth Dockerty

Gareth Dockerty

Gareth is head of uplands at BASC. Having joined the organisation in 2016, Gareth’s role focuses on ensuring decision makers, stakeholders and the public understand the benefits of shooting for upland habitats and rural communities.

Last week BASC met Shadow Defra Minister, Olivia Blake MP on a grouse moor in her Sheffield Hallam constituency. Here’s how it went…

Meeting in the middle

The event was hosted by the local keepers, estate manager and Peak District Moorland Group, showcasing the important work they have been doing for decades, benefiting the habitats, species, and communities in the area.

Olivia has in the past been a vocal critic of grouse moor management, scheduling a Westminster debate on moorland burning in 2020.  She even wrongly suggested that most wildfires are caused by prescribed cool burns, a standpoint which was later fact-checked and by BASC.

As such, it was clear from the outset that there were going to be differences of opinion on matters such as cool burning and fire breaks. However, there were some positive discussions and an agreement that ultimately, we all wanted to restore and protect peatlands. 

It was interesting to listen to Olivia speak passionately about her work to protect front-line workers from all forms of harassment. She also condemned the intimidation and abusive behaviour that gamekeepers faced daily in her constituency.

Peatland restoration work

As the rain poured down on a soggy afternoon in the Peak District, Olivia (pictured below) was shown the decades of peatland restoration work that has been undertaken on her doorstep. These ranged from sphagnum moss planting to a variety of rewetting projects to restore the peat damaged by acid rain from the region’s industrial legacy. 

She also was shown the drainage grips dug decades ago due to government agricultural grants that have been blocked as part of the rewetting effort. 

There was an opportunity to discuss the ongoing recovery of the hen harrier in England and the success now being seen; the result of key stakeholders working with the shooting community to the benefit of the birds.

Sharing a vision

The meeting was the perfect opportunity to share a vision for the future of this and many other grouse moors. Fundemental to this is demonstrating how their continued management can lock in carbon and help fight our climate emergency. 

Managed moorland also provides habitat for key species like the iconic curlew or merlin, as highlighted in the recent Peak District breeding bird survey

This moor is also leading the way on wildfire risk analysis by working in partnership with the National Park to ensure that fuel loads are managed, and peatlands are not subjected to the devastation of uncontrolled wildfires. 

Following her visit to the moor, we headed to a local pub for a cup of tea where Olivia committed to attend the BASC-coordinated Let’s Learn Moor project next year. During her visit she heard of the success of this year’s event hosted by the Peak District Moorland Group, and of the broader achievements of the project which involved over 2,000 children and 50 partner organisations. 

A very worthwhile meeting

Olivia will most probably not become an ambassador for grouse shooting, and there will continue to be disagreements on the best way forward for the management of our uplands. However, there was common ground found on this cold, damp, and foggy moor. 

Fingers crossed that Olivia left the meeting realising that the shooting community care deeply about habitats and wildlife, while being a key part of positive change for the environment, and that ultimately, we are not the villains that certain anti-shooting groups suggest. 

In short, a very worthwhile meeting. 

A huge thank you to the moorland estate team and gamekeepers who gave up their time to host Olivia. 

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