To save British wildlife we need to understand and appreciate those who own and manage the land, says Teresa Dent, chief executive of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.
HOW SHOOTING CAN HELP CONSERVATION
The common themes from our conference were: first, understand what motivates the land manager to do more for wildlife; second, focus on achieving wildlife recovery or abundance, otherwise bird populations will continue to bump along the bottom of the graph; third, the importance of good advice; and fourth, get farmers to work together at a landscape scale. It even showed incentive need not be fiscal; Chris Musgrave, one of the founding farmers of the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area, revealed, “Creating ‘lapwing envy’ in your neighbour is a good way to get that neighbour to do more for wildlife.”
Does it matter if we don’t embrace what motivates land managers to do more for wildlife? Yes, it does. Our wildlife charities’ wildlife reserves could collectively fit inside the boundary of the M25. We must recognise that 70% of our land area is farmed, and even in our National Parks the land is privately owned. On that land it is the farmers, gamekeepers, foresters and riverkeepers who need to be motivated to do more for wildlife.
Country sports act as a huge motive for conservation, providing the only “land use” that generates a significant market for wildlife conservation and management. The PACEC report, The Value of Shooting, states that two-thirds of the UK’s rural land area is managed for shooting by 21,000 shoot managers and gamekeepers and this represents an equivalent of 16,000 conservation jobs. GWCT has done most of the research that quantifies the biodiversity benefits of game management. A sample of 34 farms with shoots supported 25% more birds than farms without shoots.
Our Upland Predation Experiment showed that wader species, including curlew, lapwing and golden plover, are three times more likely to raise a chick on an area with predator control than without, and moors managed for grouse typically have five times as many golden plover and lapwings as other nearby moors, and about twice as many curlews. Our Allerton Project demonstration farm in Leicestershire reversed a 30-year songbird decline in three years when a full game-management system was deployed. We have shown unequivocally that good game management can help reverse wildlife declines, yet some politicians and opinion formers hang back from embracing this motive.
Shooting may not be everyone’s cup of tea but, for conservation, at its best it is magnificent. However, we need to find a solution to the genuine raptor-grouse conflict and that is now within our grasp with Defra’s Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan. Large numbers of pheasants and partridges are released every year. If, as some are beginning to claim, those releases were causing damage, common sense suggests we would not find that shooting properties have more farmland birds or butterflies or overwintering birds. Nonetheless every shoot releasing birds should satisfy itself that there is a net conservation gain; that, on the whole, the land has more wildlife on it because of the shoot. One way to find out is to contact the GWCT’s Shoot Biodiversity Assessment Service and book a visit.
We face an urgent conservation challenge: to halt or reverse biodiversity loss by 2020. (The EU Biodiversity Strategy up to 2020 published in May 2011 states, “This strategy is aimed at reversing biodiversity loss.”) That cannot be achieved in five years without using every tool in the box.
The 70% of land managed by farmers, the two-thirds of land managed for shooting and the 16,000 conservation workers shooting employs offer real opportunities to achieve more. Only by working with them, using psychology and ecology, by taking seriously their views on multifunctional land use can we get to where we need to be.