We have consistently described our national parks – supposedly the most important and most precious of our landscapes – as ‘so-called national parks’. We have said that because our ‘so-called national parks’ are – to a large extent – in fact managed not to conserve the magnificence of the Cairngorms, the Peak District, or the North York Moors, but to conserve grouse shooting (see, for example, Shooting in national parks from Dec 2019) And grouse shooting, as we’ve also consistently said – and as Luke Steele laid out in an interview we posted yesterday – is underpinned by wildlife crime (the extent of raptor persecution in our so-called national parks is shameful). is a pollutant, and is damaging land that could be key to the UK’s attempts to bring down its carbon emissions.
What we’ve not had access to are figures that state exactly how much of our so-called national parks is given over to slaughtering wildlife, is covered in traps and snares, and run solely for the benefit of a tiny minority of shooters and their lobbyists. Now, though, Rewildling Britain (the charity set up to “expand the scale, quality and connectivity of our native habitats”) has produced research that does just that.
In a blistering press-release Guy Shrubsole, who joined Rewildling Britain as policy and campaigns co-ordinator in January this year), says that:
- A total of 852,000 acres – an area more than twice the size of Greater London – of Britain’s national parks are devoted to intensively-managed grouse shoots.
- 44% of the Cairngorms National Park comprises driven grouse moors, as does almost a third (28%) of the North York Moors, a quarter of the Yorkshire Dales and a fifth (21%) of the Peak District. Driven grouse moors also cover 15% of Northumberland National Park and 2% of the Lake District..
- Of the six national parks that contain grouse moors – which are found only in Scotland and northern England – almost a third of their combined land area (27%) is devoted to driven grouse shoots, which keep the land in a degraded state, contribute to climate breakdown, and prevent significant recovery of wildlife.
In what world would intensively-managed grouse moors, their heather regularly burned to produce fresh shoots for young grouse (a process that often damages underlying peat soils, the UK’s single largest carbon sink) and rampant illegal persecution of some of the UK’s most protected wildlife, be considered compatible with ‘national parks’? That would be right here, unfortunately…
Our national parks should be a source of national pride, and perhaps to the millions of visitors that go there without understanding that what they are seeing is actually mile after mile of grouse moor (and heavily subsidised sheep farms) they are. But the veneer of respectability that shooting has developed over the decades by way of its strong links with Royals and the establishment (links still gleefully pushed this week by the likes of the Daily Mail) is being peeled back and what is underneath is genuinely shocking.
Rewilding Britain is calling for government action to create wilder ‘national parks’ – with a tenth of the parks’ land forming core rewilding areas and nature recovery across another 50%. This would allow the parks to ensure a healthier, more nature-rich Britain, with fresh opportunities for communities and local economies.
That hardly seems like a radical demand – you know, our national parks doing what we expect them to do almost by definition – but we can expect push back from a shooting industry that sees every suggested change, every suggestion, every step in the right direction as radical. Let’s hope the government and the national park authorities (an oxymoron if ever there was one) tell them to get lost. We need change, our wildlife needs change, and our climate is depending on it..