Inspired by the recently published Draft Climate Change Plan (RPP3), and in particular by what we consider to be a significant omission from it, we have produced the following post on sporting land use in the uplands to stimulate debate on the issue.
FPG is concerned that the Climate Plan’s apparently thorough analysis of options for reducing net emissions should neglect the vast area of Scotland dedicated to the hunting of deer and grouse.
The Plan acknowledges the carbon sequestration benefits of forestry. However it ignores the potential for natural regeneration of woodland in the uplands, many parts of which have been degraded by grazing and browsing for generations. Natural woodland development here would also improve soils and shelter, increase fish survival, reduce erosion, mitigate flooding, and restore biodiversity.
This is an argument, not against ‘sport’ shooting per se, but against the particular way this is done in Scotland – open hill stalking and intensive driven grouse shooting – involving high densities of browsing deer and the damaging practice of muirburn.
Alternative approaches to hunting are available. Experience from SW Norway demonstrates the scope for a thriving hunting culture and strong rural economy associated with landscape restored to a mosaic of native woodland, open habitats and farmland.
We acknowledge that these ‘open hill’ pursuits are speciality sports, unique to Scotland, with a devoted following. But whether these recreational preferences of a small elite should over-ride an urgent national obligation to reduce net carbon emissions is highly questionable.
When every other sector and every community and individual is being pressed to play their part in addressing the climate crisis, exonerating the use of land for a particularly exclusive form of hunting sends an unfortunate signal to the rest of society, especially when considering the scale involved.
The Climate Plan proposes 110,000 ha of new planting by 2025, at a potential cost to the taxpayer of over £500m (at current grant rates £4,630 per ha, including a heavy subsidy for fencing out deer).
By contrast, the Woodland Expansion Advisory Group report (2012) identified five times this area (over half a million hectares) of upland deer range as offering the greatest potential for woodland development in Scotland (ie excluding land which is for any reason such as altitude, existing forest cover or designation for natural heritage). If deer are controlled, natural regeneration is cost free.
Securing new ambitions for woodland in the uplands has profound importance for the fulfilment of climate objectives, as well as for environmental and land reform policies.
FPG recommends strongly that this omission should be remedied before the Plan is finalised.