M&S stores will not stock red grouse this year. Photo: Neil Theasby CC-BY-SA-2.0

M&S stores will not stock red grouse this year. Photo: Neil Theasby CC-BY-SA-2.0

One of the UK’s top retailers said it won’t stock red grouse in its stores this year.

Marks & Spencer said it could not guarantee a responsible source of the game for its stores, after a trial last year.

The company said it wanted to expand the number of outlets selling the bird but was unable to find estates meeting its strict responsible code.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds welcomed the retailer’s decision.

An M&S statement said: “We’ve been working hard over the past few months with estate managers, supported by the RSPB and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to further develop our industry-leading responsible sourcing code of practice for game suppliers.

“We already make sure that the estates we source from, which are well known to us and are across northern England and the Scottish Borders, protect and enhance natural habitats for a bio-diverse landscape.

“All comply with legislation, of course they do. But for us that’s a bare minimum. We insist that they operate to the industry’s code of good shooting practice and the [Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] codes of practice for the welfare of game birds.

“But to go one step further, we’ve developed and are implementing our own responsible sourcing code for the industry that is truly transformational.

“It needs to provide a high level of protection for habitats in need of conservation and ensure that the estates that comply with the code are recognised as adding value to rural communities.

“This year’s range will include pheasant, partridge, rabbit and pigeon as well as farmed venison.”

M&S said its sales of game grew 33 per cent last year.

The statement said: “The only disappointment we’ve had is that we haven’t been able to guarantee a responsible source of red grouse in the numbers we need this year.

“We trialled selling red grouse in two stores last year and wanted a bigger range that is third-party accredited this year. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do with the RSPB and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust before that can happen.

“We’ll carry on this work with passion and hope to have red grouse in our stores again in the future.”

Martin Harper of the RSPB said: “The shockwaves of the last year’s failure to see any hen harrier nest successfully in England have, at long last, built a momentum for change.

“The future of the English uplands, as a whole, is starting to get the attention it deserves. The common thread through this is the growing impact the driven (red) grouse shooting industry is having as some intensify the management of the uplands.

“Let’s be under no illusion, the growing recognition that the absence of hen harriers and the wider environmental implications of the grouse industry are prompting strong reactions as calls for bans and boycotts grow.

“The RSPB is not in that position, we want change and we want a positive reaction from the moorland landowners and managers.

“That’s why we welcome today’s announcement by M&S that they are not going to stock red grouse until there is a code of practice in place and we welcome the opportunity to work with M&S and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust to move this forward.

“This is also exactly the same thinking behind our call for licensing of upland driven grouse shooting in England.

“Developed co-operatively, such a proposal builds confidence and provides a real route out of adversarial dialogue that has, for too long, characterised these issues.”

Last month, the Moorland Association’s director Amanda Anderson wrote an open letter to the RSPB’s chief executive Mike Clarke, saying: “Over 70 per cent of grouse moors are designated as [sites of special scientific interest] for flora and fauna largely delivered by the way grouse moors have been managed so well over the last 200 years, with 96 per cent in favourable recovering condition.

“Clearly, there is still room for improvement, but with designation comes regulation and the Moorland Association feels that a further regulatory framework is at least unnecessary red tape and at worst could be damaging to the huge progress now being made with statutory and other bodies on peatland restoration on grouse moors.

“Equally, the hen harrier conflict is well recognised and we hope to see Defra’s joint recovery plan, which you have helped write, signed off and implemented so that we can build on the success of this year’s breeding on moorland managed for red grouse in Bowland across England in a sustainable way.

“The definition of what sustainable and successful land management in the uplands looks like is perhaps the nub of the question that needs answering.

“The Moorland Association, whose members look after one fifth of the uplands of England and Wales, need to work with you and other partners and through constructive dialogue create a code of practice for all upland land managers based on clear outcomes that also take into consideration the multiple objectives of the land use; be they water quality, conservation, agriculture, access and grouse moor management.

“Surely a healthy abundance of a suite of waders and an economically thriving local upland community are just as important as re-wetting the moors and encouraging sphagnum moss growth to clean water and lock up carbon?”

Andrew Gilruth of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust said the sticking point over the introduction of the recovery plan for the birds of prey appeared to be over the captive brood management of hen harrier chicks.

He said: “I feel it is a shame that the Defra-led joint recovery plan was not launched before this year’s breeding season. We are where we are. Will it be launched before the next breeding season?

“Do we need brood management at all? Yes. We need to send a clear signal to the gamekeepers: they should have full confidence that we all want both hen harriers and sustainable grouse moors.

“Defra has everyone agreeing that we need more hen harriers – it would be a shame to let it all unravel now.”