Charles Walker exposes cynicism of anti-shooting lobby

Speaking in a debate on grouse shooting, Charles Walker dispels myths and untruths being promoted by those who wish to ban grouse shooting and are openly hostile to the farming and land management community.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con)

It is very nice to see you in the Chair imposing a time limit on speeches, Mr Davies. That is fantastic; thank you.

I have not shot grouse before, and I doubt I ever will. In fact, I confine myself mostly to shooting clay pigeons. Today, I want to challenge the untruths being promoted by those who wish to ban grouse shooting—people who outside this place knowingly promote cod science in what I regard as a shameful attempt to set community against community and neighbour against neighbour. That wilful cynicism was no better exampled than by the reaction of Mr Mark Avery and Chris Packham to last December’s floods when, at a time of disaster, they took to the airwaves and their blogs to blame that brutal act of nature on gamekeepers and grouse moors. That was a simply unforgivable act of premeditated malice, with two media savvy men using the suffering of real people and real communities to promote their narrow political objectives.

I was driving north on 27 December 2015 through the lakes when I heard those people and their collaborators putting forward their knowingly scientifically dishonest theories—theories that sadly went unchallenged by the poorly briefed journalists interviewing them. This debate provides me with the chance to put the facts behind the Christmas floods before the House. The facts are these. The two-month period of November-December 2015 was the wettest recorded in the north of England since 1910. The December rainfall total at Shap in the single month of December 2015 was 77.3 cm or, in old-fashioned money, more than 30 inches of rain. From 1 December to 28 December 2015, Bainbridge in North Yorkshire received 49.62 cm of rain—three times more than the December average of 15.65 cm—or, in old money, ​19.5 inches of rain per acre. Bingley in West Yorkshire received more than 80% of its monthly rainfall in just two days between 25 and 27 December.

In raw numbers, 1 inch of rain equals 113.31 tonnes of water per acre, so each acre in Bainbridge for the month of December received 2,209 tonnes of rain. I know it is difficult for people in this place to imagine what 1 inch of rainfall per acre actually looks like. Well, it is equal to 16 of the largest African bull elephants landing on an acre of ground. So the rainfall at Bainbridge for December 2015 was the equivalent of 312 bull elephants jostling for position on a space the size of four football pitches.

Sticking with totals and elephants, on 5 December, one storm—Storm Desmond—deposited 13.45 inches of rain on Honister pass. That is the equivalent of 212 bull elephants all arriving in the same place, on the same day. That is why there were floods in the north of England—a biblical rainfall falling over sodden ground in a very short space of time. It was nothing to do with gamekeepers, beaters or the people in tweed who like to shoot grouse.

However, Mr Avery and his friends have never paid science and the facts much regard. Only recently, in his blog, Mr Avery stated in relation to run-off:

“Leeds University research, led by Dr Lee Brown and published in 2014, confirms Ban the Burn campaigners’ criticisms of the Walshaw Moor Estate burning.”

The glaring problem—there is only one—with Mr Avery’s posting is that it is entirely untrue. Very kindly, Dr Brown let me have a copy of his headline findings, and what he actually states in his summary is this:

“River flow in catchments where burning has taken place appears to be slightly more prone to higher flow peaks during heavy rain. However, this was not a conclusive finding.”

Angela Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Walker

No, I do not have time.

As I like to deal in facts, unlike Mr Avery, I have read the excellent and thoughtful Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council local flood risk management strategy, to which my excellent colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), contributed. It was published in June this year. I have read all 60-plus pages of it, and the word “grouse” is not mentioned once. However, what is referenced is the 60 flood events in the area since the end of the second world war, with the statement on page 14 that

“flooding has been a regular feature in Hebden Bridge since the 1800’s.”

That grown-up report does not focus its attention on banning anything. Instead, it talks of working with

“land and asset owners to implement natural flood management schemes to maximise water retention, storage and slow flows.”

That is a responsible council talking the language of collaboration, not division, and a council that wants to bring town and rural communities together, not drive them apart.

I will conclude with this. It is a wholly reasonable position for people to dislike shooting birds for sport and the table. It is a position I happen to disagree with, but I can live with disagreement. However, what is unreasonable is for people such as Mr Packham and Mr Avery to disguise their dislike of grouse shooting as part of some wider concern for the environment. That is ​the lie that needs to be exposed today. These two gentleman are known for their hostility to the farming community and land management. As one farming friend described them to me,

“These two men are not participants in the countryside. They are simply voyeurs.”

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