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Game: Birds

Volume 469: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the effect of the gamebird shooting industry on (a) the killing of indigenous mammals and birds, (b) damage to moorland peat deposits and (c) burning of heather; and if he will make a statement. (170284)

The gamebird shooting industry involves the shooting of the native grey partridge and red grouse in addition to non-native gamebirds such as red-legged partridge and pheasant. These populations are managed for shooting and there is no evidence to suggest that shooting has resulted in population declines. In order to enhance gamebird populations, a range of native birds and mammals are killed legally as part of pest control campaigns. These species are generalist predators, including foxes, stoats, weasels, carrion crows and magpies. There is no evidence to suggest that this has an adverse affect on populations of these species, although little information is available on which to assess the impacts of killing stoats and weasels. The illegal persecution of native birds of prey, especially for the threatened hen harrier in England, has been associated with game rearing interests and remains a serious problem.

Natural England is working to establish management agreements with landowners and managers, including those associated with the game industry (especially on sites of special scientific interest), to restore peatlands by the blocking of drains and agreement of burning plans. In addition, DEFRA has recently set up a policy project to coordinate the Government's work on peat. This aims to protect and enhance peat under all forms of management. As a part of this work, we plan to commission research to assess the environmental impacts of peatland management.

We are aware of the potential for damage of unregulated or poorly practised burning. This is why we introduced the Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2007. The regulations protect people, property and the natural environment, and introduce new rules to safeguard carbon-rich soils. In addition, we have published the Heather and Grass Burning Code 2007. The regulations and the code have the support of Natural England and key stakeholders, including the National Farmers' Union and the Moorland Association.