The figures for positive covid-19 tests have been climbing inexorably since a lull in the summer. Figures of 3000 new cases a day, despite the shambolic breakdown in testing carried out by the private sector (Pillar 2), look very much like the beginning of the second wave and have coincided with the return of schools and universities with all the attendant risks that entails.
In yet another knee jerk reaction, the Government has decided to restrict gatherings in England, indoors and outdoors, to six people (albeit these could be from six different households) as of 14 September. There is apparently no scientific justification for the ‘rule of six’, and it doesn’t apply in the same way elsewhere in the UK.
I play cello in our local community orchestra and was very much looking forward to returning to rehearsals this coming Sunday after we had to shut down last March. The committee had put in a massive amount of work organising us into two groups and working out how we could play while meeting the legal requirements of the old system. Now they are having to reassess everything for five days’ time. We may not be able to play.
We’ve become inured to Government announcements being sneaked out on a Friday evening, but in this case the new regulations came out late on the Sunday night, just hours before they came into law. They have not been seen by Parliament and therefore have bypassed any measure of democratic scrutiny.
Now we know why – there was a last minute change to allow hunting and shooting to be exempt from the rule of six. Paul Waugh at Huffpost reported that the Government had arranged a Cabinet Office covid-19 committee meeting for Saturday, 12 September, only for it be cancelled. Changes allowing the euphemistically described ‘field sports’ were added in the following day, without any cabinet discussion.
Grouse moors cover over half a million acres of the UK’s uplands and are managed to provide a wild bird, red grouse, in sufficient numbers to enable them to be shot by the very wealthy as a hobby. A very expensive hobby, too. One that is only available to an exclusive set of individuals.
Why, you might wonder, would the Government stop four new mums in Red Wall seats from meeting in the park, with their babies, but allow thirty extremely wealthy middle-aged men to blast the bejeesus out of small wild birds and then have a slap up meal in the pub (or hunting lodge) afterwards? Why, indeed. Could it have anything to do with the fact that, for example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, has fifteen grouse moors in his constituency, according to countryside campaigner Guy Shrubsole?
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak meets the grouse-shooting lobby.
Perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that major Conservative party donors, like Duncan Davidson, founder of Persimmon Homes, own grouse moors. Or perhaps the Herrmanns might have had a word in Spaffer-Johnson’s ear. The Herrmanns – Jeremy and Edwina. What? You haven’t heard of them? Jeremy is a hedge fund manager, while Edwina worked with David Cameron at Carlton TV. And yes, the Herrmanns own a 26,000 acre grouse moor charmingly named East Allenheads and Muggleswick. And, according to this Evening Standard diary entry from 2014, Mayor of London Johnson took time out from his arduous ‘technology lessons’ (I mean important job!), to go grouse-shooting on the Herrmann’s estate. The Herrmanns are also generous donors to the Conservative Party, also making a £25,000 coontribution to Johnson’s own Mayoral campaign in 2008.
Finally, although he is no longer quite so powerful as he was, former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, owns a grouse moor. His grouse moor interests are amongst the few we know about. Strangely, for many grouse moors, it is not possible to determine who owns them, because the ownership is held in offshore tax havens.
The Daily Mail, along with other newspapers whose printing was disrupted for one day by Extinction Rebellion protestors seeking to bring to the public attention the climate crisis which is very much now with us, screamed that these protestors be stopped, thrown in jail. Home Secretary Priti Patel mollified Mail, Telegraph and Murdoch papers (all owned via a complex web of companies based in offshore tax-havens) with dark mutterings about listing XR as an organised crime outfit, alongside the lines of the Sicilian Mafia or the Sinalunga cartel.
Yet, it is these very grouse moors where real organized crime proliferates. Organized wildlife crime. There is insurmountable evidence that grouse moors are killing zones, not just for red grouse, but for the birds of prey which are naturally drawn to these upland landscapes (to eat the grouse). hen harriers, buzzards, even golden eagles fall prey to the keepers’ use of illegal poisons and traps. Yet the government sits on its hands and does nothing. In a recent debate on grouse moors and crime, Chancellor Sunak stood up and gave an impassioned defence of the ‘sport.’
Grouse moors are upland landscapes of heath and bog. Bogs are peatlands that are far and away our largest carbon stores, storing 300M tonnes in England alone. They are also all protected under European wildlife law. Yet grouse management involves burning this peat on a regular basis. Burning peat releases carbon, as well as damaging the peat and its ability to continue growing and storing carbon. Damaged peat releases the very powerful greenhouse gas Methane. The Government had signalled its intention a year ago to ban peat-burning on grouse moors. But, as a consequence of remarkably effective lobbying according to an article in the Times on Monday(£), that intention appears to have been quietly abandoned.
When it comes to taking action on the urgent crisis of covid-19, and the existential threat of climate change and mass extinction, the Government is at least consistent: consistent in favouring their friends and donors, while ignoring the needs of everyone else.
This article first appeared on West Country Bylines.