Hiding in the guise of environmentalism

Published by Aim to Sustain on


Attempts by Wild Justice to attack shooting in the courts are more about convenience than true environmentalism, argues BASC’s head of environment research Dr Marnie Lovejoy…

Last week, Lord Justice Males refused Wild Justice permission for a judicial review of a practice that supports ethical and sustainable management of our precious uplands.

This Court of Appeal decision represented a third failed attempt by the group, which sought to challenge the legality of the Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2021; these ban heather burning on our most protected sites on peat of more than 40cm depth, unless under a licence for special beneficial circumstances.

The Court of Appeal reiterated in their order that the claims by Wild Justice have no real prospect of success. From a legal perspective, this outcome is not surprising as the legal arguments set out by Wild Justice are wholly unarguable.

However, relentless campaigns against the shooting sector dressed up as environmentalism continue to be a threat.

Complex environmental issues

It was great to see that, during these most recent proceedings, both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, remained firmly focused on the law in question. It would have been all too easy to instead succumb to simplistic and partial portrayals of what are, in reality, complex environmental issues.

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, to a degree that even the European Commission acknowledged:

“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 which follow ‘best practice’ 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 significantly damaging our peat, part of the UK’s largest carbon store. 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.

Recognising the contribution of shooting

True environmentalists would acknowledge such complex ecological interactions. It could be suggested that the 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 for control of 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 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? Organisations that make up the Aim to Sustain partnership will continue to rebut them by putting the law, scientific evidence, and the environment first.

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