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Welsh pheasant shooting debacle: “An abuse of political power over the ordinary men and women of the countryside.”

Most members will be aware of the extraordinary debacle in Wales, where public land management body Natural Resources Wales has chosen to prohibit the leasing of pheasant shooting rights on its land. This decision was taken despite the overwhelmingly supportive evidence gathered in an official Call for Evidence and presented in a subsequent report and public consultation, after which the NRW Board had originally planned to adopt sensible management recommendations that supported the use of firearms on public land.

Welsh pheasant shooting debacle: “An abuse of political power over the ordinary men and women of the countryside.”

The Board’s U-turn happened after Welsh Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn, intervened asking the Board to stop pheasant shooting because her party opposes it; Ms Blythyn has since stated that her intervention was not binding on NRW, a ridiculous statement given her Ministerial influence over a government-sponsored body.

SACS has been engaged with NRW throughout this sorry process, and the body’s Shooting Review Team wrote to us earlier this week to confirm that despite the Minister’s attempt to backtrack, they will not change their decision to ban pheasant shooting on NRW land unless the Welsh Government changes its anti-shooting position. We have written to Ms Blythyn in the strongest terms, because her decision to deny science in favour of animal rights ideology is disturbing and fundamentally unethical. Below is the text of our letter:

Dear Minister

SACS is a UK-wide fieldsports advocacy body, the largest of its kind in Scotland and Northern Ireland and with thousands of members across Wales and England. I write regarding the prohibition of the leasing of pheasant shooting rights on the WGWE, to explain how your decision to intervene is perceived by our members and the wider fieldsports community. SACS, representing a broad demographic, is politically neutral, but your intervention is political and so our necessary response has been drawn into this theatre.

The NRW call for evidence into the use of firearms on the WGWE was extensive and comprehensive. The resulting detailed report was widely publicised and underwent public consultation. As you know, after due diligence was completed, the NRW Board planned to proceed with the adoption of its evidence-based recommendations. At this point, you intervened to request a prohibition of the leasing of pheasant shooting rights on NRW land, because the report’s conclusion in favour of this activity – a conclusion based on the extensive evidence collected during the review – contradicted your party policy position.

Effectively, you have used your Ministerial power to derail an evidence-based process. We are aware that you have subsequently stated that your intervention was not binding on NRW, but this statement is not supportable given your position as Environment Minister with demonstrable influence over a government-sponsored body; indeed, NRW have today written to us to explain that they cannot change their decision unless you and your administration retract your opposition to pheasant shooting.

Your action has sent a clear message to the public: that Welsh Labour is content to openly ignore the overwhelming findings of scientific research, pursuing the furtherance of ideology over fact. The rational response to being presented with clear evidence that disagrees with an established view, is to alter that view accordingly. Indeed, this is also the ethical reaction.

We are horrified that you have chosen to adopt an authoritarian approach to government, a mindset that is the enemy of legitimate but minority communities such as mine. I understand that you will have encountered lobbying pressure from animal rights activists, who you may feel to be aligned to your party’s ideological interests; however, extreme views and subjectivity should have no place in British democracy. Even those who will turn a blind eye to your denial of science because they dislike shooting should be concerned, on a point of principle, about the implications of your willingness to readily flout evidence. Legitimate government can be based only on fact.

You should be aware that my community has not attacked or targeted anyone; we simply wish to live our lives quietly, without incessant harassment from those individuals and groups whose extremist fixation on animal rights, rather than animal welfare, clouds their objectivity. Indeed, the only reason organisations such as SACS exist is to defend our people from the unjustified hostility that is forced upon us. Politicians relentlessly target us precisely because the active management of animals and birds is widely misunderstood by the public, eliciting extreme emotions from people who choose to ignore the facts in favour of outrage that is then readily manipulated to leverage votes at election time. By acting as you have, you are reinforcing this unethical behaviour by lending it credence.

Recently, your British party colleague Dame Margaret Hodge stated in a Radio 4 interview that Labour “is the party of equality”. By your decision to seek the prohibition of pheasant shooting on the WGWE, you have demonstrated that Welsh Labour is certainly not a party of equality, because you remain prejudiced against my community despite the vast body of evidence that supports our significant contribution to socio-economic and environmental sustainability.

Without a robust ecosystem there can be no shooting, because only a healthy environment supports an ongoing sustainable harvest of our quarry species. The evidence is clear: responsible members of the fieldsports community benefit rural Wales through their extensive conservation work. The NRW Board and staff are fully aware of the reputational risks in making management decisions that contradict science and waste taxpayers’ money by dismissing a commissioned report because it contains this inconvenient truth. NRW have made it clear that it is up to you withdraw your opposition to pheasant shooting; if you do this, they can then try to salvage their organisation’s reputation by reverting to evidence-based management of the WGWE.

Minister, this email is a reminder that you are playing with people’s lives and their culture; with their livelihoods and their wellbeing, and with the continuation of effective conservation work on the WGWE and contiguous land. Labour used to be the party of ordinary folk, and it is ordinary folk who comprise the vast majority of SACS’ membership. Seeking to ban pheasant shooting is not a justified crusade against a rich person’s frivolous hobby or ‘bloodlust’, as its opponents incorrectly and disingenuously frame it. It is an abuse of political power over the ordinary men and women of the countryside.

Yours sincerely,

Alex Stoddart
Director, SACS

A UK-wide shooting and fieldsports body, SACS is privileged to represent thousands of members in Wales and England. The fight to save our community is becoming increasingly challenging, and we now have a major political party openly denying scientific evidence because it does not support their ingrained prejudice.

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